‘The End’ by Samuel Beckett, translated by Richard Seaver and Samuel Beckett

Beckett’s handful of short stories are all masterpieces. ‘The End’ inhabits a universe like that of Malone Dies, which is to say it is futile and decrepit but also shot through with moments of flaring lyricism and colours that briefly bloom in grey. It is about a narrator discharged from an indeterminate institution of the psychiatric type, and his efforts to find his way through an uncanny psychogeographic landscape of rejection, exile, and nebulous memory. He’s forever looking for lodgings, forever moving from one place to the next, until he finds himself literally at sea. It is very sad, but there are some great jokes. There is a type of joke that Beckett excels at, where he builds an elaborate and often profound bait and destroys it with a brutal and obscene punchline, timed to perfection. I think the finest example of the form is in this story. It cracks me up. It goes as follows:.

The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.
First published, in part, as ‘Suite’, in Temps Modernes, July 1946. First published in English in Merlin 3, 1954. Collected in Stories and Texts for Nothing, Grove Press, 1955. Currently available in various collections from Faber & Faber and Penguin, including as a £1 Penguin Modern, 2018

‘A Wet Night’ by Samuel Beckett

This story is important to me because it is one of my first experiences of intractable, strategic difficulty. Beckett is an influential writer for so many people that I won’t go into it here, but his early work (this was published in 1934) is somewhat under-read. I’ve made some notes to assist readers here. I restrained myself to one story from Beckett, but The Lost Ones (1970) and Imagination Dead Imagine (1965), which is described on first publication by Calder and Boyars as “Mr. Beckett’s first essay into a new kind of science fiction,” are also extremely important short works.

In More Pricks than Kicks, First published by Chatto in 1934. Now available from Faber, 2010