‘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 Murphy, fragmented and incomplete. They come to London in search of Murphy. 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 readers alike into exuberance. It is read with verve and familiarity by Stephen Hogan.
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