Highlight of Stay So Far
- The Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol. IV: 1966-89 edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck
Cambridge, 838 pp, £29.99, September 2016, ISBN 978 0 521 86796 2
Faced with the threatening possibility of hope, Beckett liked to get his retaliation in first. ‘Downhill begins this year,’ he announced with grim satisfaction in 1966. Even this may have been a slip, allowing the possibility of there having been an ‘up’ from which to come down. Usually his defences were in place in advance: ‘All is I suppose as well as can be expected by one with my powers of expectation.’ Thus armoured, he could allow himself to send his version of a cheery wave from holiday in Italy: ‘Nothing to tell that’s not better untold. Aches worse than in Paris, weather filthy.’ The line between stoicism and vindication isn’t always easy to draw: when having serious trouble with his teeth, he reported that speech and eating were almost impossible, adding with relish: ‘But drink and silence unimpaired.’ It’s true that there are odd occasions when something which, by his standards, might count as cheerfulness breaks in: ‘Moments here when it’s not as bad as all that to be not quite dead.’ However, normal service is soon resumed. ‘Now such inertia & void as never before. I remember an entry in Kafka’s diary. “Gardening. No hope for the future.” At least he could garden.’
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