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Books > Culture > Literature

Many of history’s most famous writers and poets were born in Ireland, and several Irishmen have been awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature. Irish Nobel laureates include William Butler Yeats, 1923; George Bernard Shaw, 1925; Samuel Beckett, 1969; and Seamus Heaney, 1995. (Ironically, James Joyce, arguably the most influential and greatest of all Irish authors, was snubbed repeatedly by the Nobel Prize Committee, which apparently couldn’t handle such a controversial choice.)

Irish Writers at a Glance Chart


For the Love of Ireland: A Literary Companion for Readers and Travelers by Susan CahillFor the Love of Ireland: A Literary Companion for Readers and Travelers

by Susan Cahill

How can one recommend a single book selection from a field as rich as Irish literature? A formidable challenge indeed… The only equitable solution may be to cheat, with this unusual hybrid of literary anthology and travel guide. For the Love of Ireland presents some of the all-time legends of Irish literature writing about some of Ireland's most unforgettable destinations. You can visit Limerick with Frank McCourt or Sligo with William Butler Yeats, and walk the misty Dublin streets with James Joyce or Samuel Beckett. If you in turn take this book with you to Ireland, you can then trace the steps of author Susan Cahill, who describes in detail how to locate and best experience the exact village, pub, countryside or neighborhood being written about in each story.

Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, the Unnamable Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, the Unnamable
by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett's brilliance as a dramatist--as the creator of Waiting for Godot, Krapp's Last Tape, and that despairing pas de deux Endgame--has tended to overshadow his gifts as a novelist. Yet he's unmistakably one of the great fiction writers of our century. As a young man he took dictation (literally) from James Joyce, and absorbed everything that myopic maestro had to offer when it came to Anglo-Irish prosody. Still, Beckett's instincts would ultimately steer him away from Joyce's delirious play with high and low diction, toward a more concentrated, even compulsive style. His earlier novels, like Murphy or Watt, give us a taste of what was to come. But Beckett truly hit his stride with a trilogy of early-1950s masterpieces: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. Here he dispenses with all the customary props of contemporary fiction--including exposition, plot, and increasingly, paragraphs--and turns his attention to consciousness itself. Nobody has ever evoked the pain of existence, or the steady slide toward nonexistence, with such poetic, garrulous accuracy. And once you've attuned yourself to the epistemological vaudeville of Beckett's prose, he turns out to be the funniest writer on the planet--ever.

+ Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 Shamrocks for Three Novels by Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, the Unnamable Words words words
It's hard to top Beckett when it comes to sheer density of prose. His trilogy here is considered one of the greatest sets of novels in the 20th century, and it's a rightly deserved reputation. Here Beckett does two neat tricks over the course of the three books, first he gradually strips the story down to its very essence, that being words and sentences and phrases to the point where the story is almost pure thought processes. Second, and this is probably harder, he manages the trick of taking an absolutely bleak view of life and making it absolutely hilarious. Through absurd situations, witty asides and just general black humor there are fewer works of literature that will literally have you laughing out loud while forcing you to confront the possible pointlessness of life. At no point is any of this easy reading, Beckett's prose can be politely described as relentless and the words just keep coming, maintaining an odd, jerky sort of rhythm that manages to pull you along so that the books read much faster than you might expect. And even though it's a trilogy mostly in spirit, there are some definite progressions from book to book. Molloy is the easiest to read and makes the most sense, even if its circuitiousness can be madly frustrating sometimes. And for some reason Beckett pulls an absolutely bizarre switch halfway through that I'm not smart enough to understand. But for the most part it's fairly accessable. Malone Dies is as bleak as the name implies and is probably the funniest in a black humour sort of way. I actually found this one easiest to understand though, but that's probably not the case with everyone. And then you hit the last book The Unnamable (which I saw someone jokingly once refer to as "The Unreadable") which brings Beckett to the absolute pinnacle of his style. There's barely any description to give the reader a visual image, and whatever descriptions there are always shift, never staying still. The novel is pure thought, a series of knotted sentences managing to convey a whole range of emotions and somehow achieving a strange beauty in the process. The final few words of the novel probably sum Beckett up just as much as anything else. These aren't novels you read for plot, but for the writing and his prose makes it all worthwhile. For those readers who don't mind doing a little work in their reading to be rewarded, Beckett is probably the place to go. This trilogy stands as one of the more uniquely beautiful pieces of the 20th century. The Nobel Prize was justly deserved.

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