cover image The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume I: 1929-1940

The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume I: 1929-1940

. Cambridge University Press, $50 (782pp) ISBN 978-0-521-86793-1

Shuffled among publishers for too long, the selected letters of the great Irish novelist and playwright Beckett (1906-1989) are finally here, the first in a projected four-volume set. Beckett, known for his love of silence and texts that attenuated to nearly nothing, was a veritable letter-writing machine, though only his letters to director Alan Schneider have been previously collected; this project may well represent the last great corpus of typed and handwritten correspondence from a literary giant. Beginning with two letters from the then-unpublished 23-year-old to James Joyce (helping the master with some Greek translations), and ending with a short note describing a Bram Van Velde painting seen just before the Nazis took Paris, Beckett struggles valiantly, endlessly, to find himself (included is a 1936 request for admission to the Moscow State School of Cinematography). There's much to discover, including Beckett's relations with forgotten Irish poet Thomas McGreevy and some explicit shop talk, including a 1937 letter to Axel Kaun in which he outlines his ambition: ""to drill one hole after another into the English language until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through."" Accompanied by smart, exhaustive notes, chronologies and solid bios of all correspondents, this collection will no doubt deepen Beckett scholarship, as well as fans' appreciation.