DAMNED TO FAME by James Knowlson

DAMNED TO FAME

The Life of Samuel Beckett
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 The long-awaited authorized biography of the reclusive Nobel laureate, written by Knowlson (French/Univ. of Reading, England), who was not only a friend of Beckett's and his choice to do the book, but is also a noted Beckett scholar. This volume--based on access to Beckett's correspondence, papers, friends and colleagues, and most important, five months of interviews with the subject himself--will stand as definitive for the foreseeable future. Knowlson traces the familiar trajectory of Beckett's career in minute detail, from his comfortable, middle-class childhood in Dublin through his difficult period of shuttling between France, Germany, and his parents' home and his abandonment of an academic career. After settling in France more or less permanently, Beckett would become actively involved with the Resistance; one of the great strengths of this volume is the attention paid to Beckett's political views and activities, which were more extensive than generally imagined. In the aftermath of the war and its privations, Beckett underwent a burst of writing activity that included the play that would make him a famous if misunderstood name, Waiting for Godot. Knowlson is preoccupied with relating events and settings to the writings, something that few Beckett observers have troubled to do in such copious detail, and the result is that the first third of the book has a jagged, discontinuous feeling. But once Beckett's career takes off in the postwar period, Knowlson's narrative flows more graciously. He is an astute commentator on the later writings in particular, explaining how Beckett's love of painting and music inspired much of his work, showing how the passing of an entire generation of Beckett's friends and family inflected the darkening vision of his later works. Above all, Knowlson offers a convincing picture of a man who was better-rounded and better-adjusted than the bleak universe he depicted: a man of surpassing wit, generosity, and kindness, deserving not only of the kudos he garnered over his long life but of a well-rounded portrait, which this most definitely is.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-80872-2
Page count: 784pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS: