No one has done the voice inside the head, ever present as we dice and chop life’s minutiae into apposite syllables— that “murmur, now precise as the headwaiter’s”—so accurately as Samuel Beckett. He remains the master of depicting mental paralysis, registering with circular syntax (there is always another but, yet, perhaps, or) the provisional, self-consuming logic that mires the soul at the starting line. Beckett achieved a kind of apotheosis of this style in three novels—Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable—all composed in the late ’40s while he was living in France. In these works, as in much of his fiction, a first-person narrator delivers a soliloquy of sorts, and this “mind on a stage” has readily lent itself to dramatic interpretation. The late actor Jack MacGowran toured for many years as a one-man show that featured selections from the author’s prose and poetry. Barry McGovern, who might be said to be MacGowran’s successor, performs a solo show that draws on Beckett’s trilogy. For Samuel Beckett: Three Novels (RTE/Lannan, $70), an eighteen-disc collection, he presents each of those novels in their entirety.
Although this fiction was composed in French and only later translated by the author into English (Molloy was cotranslated by Patrick Bowles), it’s hard to believe that the Dublin brogue intoned by McGovern wasn’t sounding in Beckett’s ear as he wrote. The actor ably channels a narrator who tirelessly shifts tacks, approaching comically mundane problems—how best to store a sucking stone in a jacket, how to dig a grave with only one good leg—from every possible angle, only to resolve the issue with a shrug at a stubborn universe. (“The less I think of it,” says Molloy as he tries to recall the breed of a particular dog, “the more certain I am.”) There are nearly twenty hours of recitation in this box set—enough, if listened to over a short span, to clear-cut a swath in one’s brain and leave in its wake nothing but murmur, the echoing cadence of pure cogitation. What Beckett called “the long sonata of the dead.”