This novel is simultaneously a last will and testament of an old man who knows he is soon to die and a moment-by-moment record of his feelings and impressions as he awaits death. He is talking to himself and writing things while sitting in a bed in some public building. One can deduce from this that he is in a hospital. Samuel Beckett’s narrative unfolds phenomenologically; the reader is given bits and pieces, glimpses, details from which he or she can derive the bigger picture or watch as Malone derives it.
Malone is indeed writing at least some of these words, because he says at one point, “I fear I must have fallen asleep again. In vain I grope, I cannot find my exercise book. But I still have the pencil in my hand.” His musings—typical of this narrative—raise one question while answering another: Where has he written those words?
Such teasing fills this novel. Beckett toys with the frame, always reminding his readers that they are reading words and not seeing through them to an objective reality solidly anchored in some real world. Yet the realities of life and death are ever present. These are not so much called into question as is the ability of words to be their equal, to cope with the facts of mortality and temporality.
Malone “speaks” in the first person. He says, “I, Malone,” and whenever he says this, he is also saying, “I’m alone.” All Beckett’s works, be they drama, poem, or novel, are powered by this single phrase. Such punning is second nature with Beckett, whose works, like those of his mentor and fellow Irishman James Joyce, are strewn with homonyms both comic and telling.
Absurdly thrown into a universe without appeal, Beckett’s characters, often suffering from mental and physical diseases, often...
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