Book Review: Waiting for Godot

WAITING FOR GODOT COVERSamuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts, 1952 by Grove Press. The play was first written in French, and translated later by the author himself.

Seems everywhere I turn, “Waiting for Godot” is lauded as the height of theater in the 20th century, if not the best literature of the 20th century. Beckett is also known for the Molloy novel trilogy (also on my to-read list, but not for quite some time) and other writings. He is considered the end of modernism, the beginning of postmodernism, the epitome of absurdist, and also French avant-garde (not to mention a member of the French Resistance in World War II). He hung with James Joyce and the James Joyce circle in Paris, where he lived, although he was first an Irishman studying language in Dublin. A novelist, playwright, director and poet, he was known for black comedy and minimalism, and also for his “open attack on the then-popular realist tradition. Throwing conventional plot lines and restricted time sequences to the wind, his experimental writing style paved the way…” (Huffington Post). I like how “The Modern World” website put it: His is “very human drama pared down to its most necessary gestures: expectation, companionship, abuse, hope.” Or from the Nobel Peace Prize award that he won for “his writing ….–in new forms for the novel and drama–in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.”

I picked up Waiting for Godot because I had read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and got on a Tom Stoppard kick. Then I heard that if I liked Stoppard, I would like his major influence, Godot. This proved to be an obvious jump, but not a truthful one. I can see the similarities; they are glaring. But I don’t really like Godot nor enjoy it. If asked if I can appreciate it, I would say “Yes.” If asked if I would recommend it, I would say “No, not for most people.”

Honestly, if you read both Godot and some Stoppard theater and were asked if they were by the same author (with no prior knowledge), you would get a resounding “Of course!” So why didn’t I like Godot as much? I don’t really know. Perhaps I didn’t find it as funny as Stoppard. Perhaps I need to see it performed for better appreciation. (I would love to catch the current Broadway production, but I can’t see that happening.) Perhaps I was getting sick of “nothing” entertainment (what, after all that pre-absurdist Ibsen and then Stoppard and Seinfeld).

If nothing else, it’s a short read, so it is easy to explore without the investment of something weightier like War and Peace or even Parade’s End, which I am currently reading. Though, in true weight of material, Godot may outstrip them all. I’m sure, with the proper grouping of academics or friends, one could spend great time and energy sifting through Godot for its gems, learning a lot in the process. In fact, I’m also sure that very thing is happening right now somewhere, for someone. Is Godot God? What is Beckett saying about humanity or about modern man? What did he do to change theater–art–and make it what it is today? Perhaps I will revisit all this when I get to the Molloy trilogy.

“‘Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets.’ / ‘With me it’s just the opposite.’ / ‘In other words?’ / ‘I get used to the muck as I go along'” (p13).

“‘It’s the start that’s difficult.’ ‘You can start from anything.’ / ‘Yes, but you have to decide.’ / ‘True'” (p54).

“‘We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?'” / ‘Yes, yes, we’re magicians. But let us persevere in what we have resolved, before we forget'” (p59).

“‘We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?” (p70).

“‘The blind have no notion of time. The things of time are hidden from them too'” (p77).

“‘One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? They give brth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more'” (p80).

“‘Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps'” (p81).

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