'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.' So opens Murphy, Samuel Beckett's first novel, published in 1938. Its work-shy eponymous hero, adrift in London, realises that desire can never be satisfied and withdraws from life, in search of stupor. Murphy's lovestruck fiancée, Celia, tries with tragic pathos to draw him back, but her attempts are doomed to failure.
In Dublin, Murphy's friends and familiars are simulacra of him, fragmented and incomplete. They come to London in search of him. Under pressure from Celia to get a job, Murphy finds a post as a nurse in a mental institution, Magdalen Mental Mercyseat.
Beckett's achievement in this early work lies in the brilliantly original language used to communicate his singular vision of isolation and misunderstanding. The combination of particularity and absurdity gives Murphy's world its painful definition, but the sheer comic energy of Beckett's prose releases characters and listeners alike into exuberance. It is read with verve and familiarity by Stephen Hogan.
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Excellent rendition of a quite difficult comic masterpiece. It would be great if there were more of Beckett's work available.
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A mixed bag...
'Murphy' was written at a time when Beckett was still very much struggling to find his own voice, to crawl out from under the shadow of James Joyce. Far too much of it is self-consciously clever, wearing its learning on its sleeve, sometimes to the severe detriment of the narrative. On the other hand there are moments of true comic genius, laugh out loud moments, and a wonderful cast of characters. I'd say this is best approached as a step along the road to Beckett's later novels, whilst also being a minor pleasure that can be enjoyed for its own sake. The performance by Stephen Hogan is excellent.