My, this was a strange one. Having not read any Beckett before, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Being Beckett though, it seems that, even halfway through, it was typical that I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
Murphy (and, I suspect, the rest of Beckett’s oeuvre) is for the intellectual and, as such, went completely over my head. I found it a much harder read and more esoteric than The Third Policeman or even Ulysses, works which also illustrate the Irish tendency to push the boundaries of what the novel can be. Whereas Joyce and O’Brien can keep your attention by providing some more lucid footholds, Beckett often leaves you stranded in a fog.
Ostensibly the book is about a guy called Murphy who lives in London, ends up taking a part time job at an asylum and has an affinity for tying himself into his rocking chair and playing chess. Various characters orbit the protagonist all of whom share the hero’s tendency to madness it seems.
There’s no real plot to speak of, conversations are surreal, and one episode consists of an entire game of chess being described in notation form. Ironically, this was probably about the only part of the book I could follow because it was, perhaps intentionally, the only part of the book where the writer was at least following some predictable rules. For the most part, I had no idea what was going on.
It wasn’t unpleasant though. It was just writing, and it passed me by without the least impact or lasting effect whatsoever. If Beckett was trying to communicate something to me with this, he completely failed to do so. Whether or not this is a shame depends entirely on whether what he had to communicate was in any way worthwhile. Something tells me it probably wasn’t.