Sunday, January 16, 2011

Books: How It Is, by Samuel Beckett

As an additional antidote to eight months of Proust, I chose Samuel Beckett. There is enough that I want to read that I don't usually reread anything, but I was describing How It Is, which I read for a college course on the contemporary novel, to a friend, and thought that it was a small enough book that it wouldn't hurt to revisit it.

I remembered it fondly; at least, I thought fondly of what I remembered, to be more precise. I remembered the book being about a worm called Bom, who crawls, for the novel's duration, through the mud, on his belly, carrying a sack. I remember the book being divided into three parts: before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim, Pim being a companion upon whom Bom one day comes, and who abuses Bom for a time by beating and biting and poking him, prior to disappearing.

Rereading clarified one key thing, which is that Bom, the narrator, is in fact the aggressor, who clobbers Pim on the head ("thump on skull"), digs his nails into Pim's armpits ("less pads than nails second cry of fright"), beats his organs ("with a pestle bang on the right kidney"), and sodomizes him with a can opener ("opener in the arse," later abbreviated to "opener arse") normally kept in the sack for the tinned food they eat. I also realized that Bom was less a worm than a worm-ish man, for he describes having arms and legs ("right arm right leg push pull"), a head and neck around which the sack is tied, and teeth between which he sometimes clutches the sack. He cannot speak, but Pim can. They are men, if men who crawl in mud, which mud may be their own shit. Bom considers this possibility, but isn't sure.

I've not yet mentioned that the book has no punctuation, and no capital letters at the beginnings of phrases (proper names, like Bom and Pim, are capitalized, as are certain phrases spoken with emphasis ("DO YOU LOVE ME CUNT no")). This does add to the sensation of crawling on one's belly through mud, obviously. But it also allows for a strangely wonderful, ghostly rhythm, should you read it aloud and intelligently.

This is not my favorite work of Beckett's; I haven't a problem with its being difficult—I am willing to suffer that—but I don't think that its repetition is always successful; it's boggy and lags in places, where Waiting for Godot, for example, is taut. Still, the concept, the essence, is cruelly incisive and brilliant, and quite beautiful, for all of its horror. It's better when read aloud.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liked the review,and my girlfriend got me the book today since i loved Waiting for Godot so much,so i thought id do some research on this one too :)