It is over thirty years ago, as a sixth form student, that I first encountered Samuel Beckett, when I read Waiting for Godot and then saw a superb production of it at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester with Max Wall and Trevor Peacock as Vladimir and Estragon. Following that I went on to read most of his other early plays, before encountering his later shorter pieces, or dramaticules, which I studied briefly as an undergraduate. I am less familiar with Beckett’s prose fiction, although it could be thought of as a false distinction to separate his short stories (or even his longer prose pieces) from the monologues contained with plays such as That Time, Footfalls or Rockaby.
The Expelled, published as a Penguin Mini Modern Classics, contains two novellas (although I’m not sure if they are long enough to qualify as such): The Expelled and First Love. They are both a delight to read, the language so rich and poetic that I found myself re-reading paragraphs two or three times for the sheer pleasure of it. Beckett’s writing is often rather loosely described as ‘surreal’ or ‘absurd’. What is often overlooked, in my opinion, is that Beckett is a great storyteller. Even when writing in French, Beckett is an Irish writer and his writing is full of the Irish voices of his youth – their rhythms, their poetry and their stories. In fact, reading Beckett for me is only possible with a Dublin accent playing in your head. The other thing that Beckett is not always given credit for is that amongst the bleakness and hopelessness of some of those stories, he is a very funny writer. Like Flann O’ Brien, he is able to wrest humour from the most desperate situations and the pointless absurdity of life. Both of these marvellous stories confirm why Beckett is worth reading over and over again.