Mercier and Camierby Samuel Beckett
“A comedy of high style, terser and, I think, funnier than any of his other novels.” —A. Alvarez, The Observer (London)
Mercier and Camier was originally written in French in 1946, but it was not until 1970 that Beckett allowed its publication in Paris. In the many critical discussions and volumes which Beckett’s work has inspired, Mercier and Camier already occupies an important place and is considered one of Beckett’s funniest books, rich in both verbal and situational humor as it records the comings and goings of Mercier and Camier—another addition to the repertoire of Beckett’s pairs.
In the London Observer, A. Alvarez has called Mercier and Camier “a comedy of high style, terser and, I think, funnier than any of his other novels.” He summarizes the events in the novel as follows: “The two heroes meet and, after much hesitation, set off on a vague journey which only twice manages to get them briefly clear of town. They spend a good deal of time in bars and with a friendly prostitute called Helen. They kill a policeman. They curse God and their various ailments and indulge in a little metaphysics. Finally, they drift apart and are brought together again at the close by Watt, making a useful guest appearance from his previous incarnation in Beckett’s oeuvre.”
Mercier and Camier sparkle with music-hall dialogue; the two heroes are inexplicably provided with vaudeville props—a sack, an umbrella, a raincoat—but are soon deprived of these possessions. At every level, Mercier and Camier is a haunting work which nonetheless is a highly entertaining, in parts hilarious, addition to the Beckett cannon, written with a descriptive prose of original and unusual force and beauty.
“A comedy of high style, terser and, I think, funnier than any of his other novels.” —A. Alvarez, The Observer (London)
“This relentless voice could reveal character in its most desperate loneliness, stripping it as never before in contemporary fiction.” —Deirdre Bair, The New York Times Book Review
“Two seedy stumblebums named Mercier and Camier, forerunners of Estragon and Vladimir of Waiting for Godot, set out on a mysterious journey through vaguely Irish scenery. They are unwilling clowns in a performance they do not understand. They are saddled with props—a reluctant umbrella, a sack, a raincoat and a bicycle—and trip helplessly into Alphonse-Gaston routines. They are the butt of exquisitely timed malfunctions. Beckett’s peculiar genius is a Buster Keaton, deadpan humor that shrivels in the explaining. Mercier and Camier is as hilarious, in gasps, as anything he has written. The novel’s coolly mannered prose disguises outrageous statements until the instant they land.” —Paul Gray, Time
“For the Beckett enthusiast, the appearance of this volume is like the discovery of some rich archeological find. Mercier and Camier finally gives us two more ‘high-class nuts to crack,’ in the great tradition of Pozzo and Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon, Hamm and Clov, and those sexual athletes Hairy Mac and Sucky Moll. It presents us with a long-awaited novel in which Beckett’s Language falls once again on its feet, like a cat.” —Enoch Brater, The New Republic
“It is the first of Beckett’s prose works to be written in French. Indeed, it seems to be the first motion of that remarkable postwar exertion whereby Beckett, casting off his native tongue and perhaps thereby moving out from under the shadow of his mentor Joyce, transformed himself, in a five-year siege of writing in his Paris apartment, from a slothful dilettante into a master . . . a sense of lifted nightmare hangs over its ambiguously located city, and its heroes, in their aimless wandering, seem to be hesitantly exploring a new freedom, as the author is exploring a new language . . . the cruel and puerile incidents are relieved by rays of descriptive beauty, sentences so finely balanced and quietly phrased as to suffuse entire scenes with their melancholy tenderness.” —The New Yorker
“Mr. Beckett’s despair over man’s rudderless course is well known. He has seldom made better comedy of it than in this tale of a couple of old coots trying to reach a nameless destination for unspecified purposes.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Mercier and Camier is a major literary event, the sweeter for being so long overdue . . . cause for celebration primarily because it is valuable; it confirms what we know of Beckett and sheds, as they say, needed light on the Beckett canon. . . . Beckett converts a perceived misery into a redemptive irony. . . . The impulse to quote is irresistible—Beckett always seems to be referring to the universe at large as well as to a specific portion of it. . . . About everything and nothing, Mercier and Camier is a triumph of the word over the void.” —David Lehman, Newsday
“When it comes to slapstick metaphysics and mannered insanity, there is no one quite like Beckett. Perched atop his ingenious but stark visions, he is literature’s man on a fence, musing over worlds that are either comically heartbreaking or heartbreakingly comic. . . . In the space of only 123 pages, Beckett’s travelers become almost interchangeable, but ultimately always separate, relying on each other for sustenance, communication, the facade of their existence. . . . Believers in Beckett’s unbelieving ways will find Mercier and Camier characteristically laced with futile adventures, alienation, cosmic ironies, and serious identity problems; in other words, vintage Beckett.” —G. E. Murray Chicago Daily News
“If Vladimir and Estragon had gone looking for Godot, instead of waiting for him on that forlorn hillock with a single tree, they probably would have experienced the halting adventures of Mercier and Camier. . . . Written in 1946 in French, published and translated into English by the author himself, this short novel is bleak but haunting—the dry cry of a soul lost in the void.” —Dave Richards, The Washington Star
“Their prostitute friend Helen, the umbrella, the bicycle, the raincoat, the sack—it all makes for Beckett’s most accessible novel so far, both funnier and sadder than the others, which is to say, lighter. . . . One doesn’t expect to laugh out heartily time after time, as one does here. And the ending is as moving as any part of Waiting for Godot or All That Fall. . . .This is the great fascination with Beckett’s characters: their compulsion to spill out as much of the agony as they can into simple, strange talk. . . . Always there is the joy that Beckett is pulling on both of the readers legs at once.” —James G. Reynolds Chicago Sun Times
“You can’t tell whether it is insanely maladroit or on to something eerily profound. (To God’s knowledge? Or to a psychiatrist’s? Who else might have such knowledge?) . . . Beckett’s translation, with great ingenuity, variety and beauty . . . A prodigal demented book, on the whole, and yet it has so many woebegone felicities of phrasing that we had better rest lugubriously content with its own words: ‘Blow, blow, thou ill wind.’” —Christopher Ricks Sunday Times
“There can be little doubt that Mercier and Camier . . . provided the basis for [Waiting for] Godot. . . . Preferring to travel on, to exist in all the dualities in which we both torment and dignify us. Thus, though the clown-like Mercier and Camier are doomed to suffer existence’s blows, they are noble simply by their defiance of the urge to death, to suicide. . . . We can be grateful to Beckett. . . . for proving again that however insensitive man can be, he can also realize sorrow and joy, good and bad, falsity and truth, and he can express them in the ordered chaos which is art.” —James McKinley Kansas City Star
“Shimmers with marvelous, musical words and images.” —Library Journal
“Of more than critical interest, despite those 20 years in the closet; a beauty.” —Virginia Kirkus Service
“In the author’s translation of his 1946 novel nothing happens and nothing changes but this cipher world is rendered in a high style of precise indecision and existential disjunction. Whether considered a milestone in Beckett’s experiments in fictional technique or as yet another example of his terse but rich verbal playfulness, this makes rewarding reading.” —The Booklist
The day came at last when lo the town again, first the outskirts, then the centre. They had lost the notion of time, but all pointed to the Lord’s Day, or day of rest, the streets, the sounds, the passers-by. Night was falling. They prowled about the centre, at a loss where to go. Finally, at the suggestion of Mercier, whose turn it must have been to lead, they went to Helen’s. She was in bed, a trifle unwell, but rose none the less and let them in, not without having first cried, from behind the door, Who goes there? They told her all the latest, their hopes both shattered and forlorn. They described how they had been chased by the bull. She left the room and came back with the umbrella. Camier manipulated it at length. But it’s in perfect trim, he said, quite perfect. I mended it, said Helen. Perhaps even if possible more perfect than before, said Camier. If possible perhaps, said Helen.
It opens like a dream, said Camier, and when I release—click!—the catch it collapses unaided. I open, I close, one, two, click, plop, click, pl—. Have done, said Mercier, before you break it on us again. I’m a trifle unwell, said Helen. No better omen, said Camier. But the sack was nowhere to be seen. I don’t see the parrot, said Mercier. I put it out in the country, said Helen. They passed a peaceful night, for them, without debauch of any kind. All next day they spent within doors. Time tending to drag, they manstuprated mildly, without fatigue. Before the blazing fire, in the twofold light of lamp and leaden day, they squirmed gently on the carpet, their naked bodies mingled, fingering and fondling with the languorous tact of hands arranging flowers, while the rain beat on the panes. How delicious that must have been! Towards evening Helen fetched up some vintage bottles and they drifted off contentedly to sleep. Men less tenacious might not have withstood the temptation to leave it at that. But the following afternoon found them in the street again, with no other thought than the goal they had assigned themselves. Only a few more hours and it would be night, nightfall, a few more leaden hours, so no time was to be lost. Yet even total darkness, total but for the streetlamps, so far from hindering their quest could only further it, all things considered. For the district they now aimed to get to, one to which they hardly knew the way, would be easier for them to get to by night than by day, since the one time they had got to it before, the one and only time, it had not been day, no, but night, nightfall. So they entered a bar, for it is in bars that the Merciers of this world, and the Camiers, find it least tedious to await the dark. For this they had another if less weighty reason, namely the advantage to be derived, on the mental level too, from immersion as complete as possible in that selfsame atmosphere which had so unsteadied their first steps. They set to therefore without delay. There is too much at stake, said Camier, for us to neglect the elementary precautions. Thus with a single stone they accounted for two birds, and even three. For they availed themselves of the respite to talk freely of this and that, with great profit, to themselves. For it is in bars that the Merciers of this heavenly planet, and the Camiers, talk with greatest freedom, greatest profit. Finally a great light bathed their understandings, flooding in particular the following concepts.
1. The lack of money is an evil. But it can turn to a good.
2. What is lost is lost.
3. The bicycle is a great good. But it can turn nasty, if ill employed.
4. There is food for thought in being down and out.
5. There are two needs: the need you have and the need to have it.
6. Intuition leads to many a folly.
7. That which the soul spews forth is never lost.
8. Pockets daily emptier of their last resources are enough to break the stoutest resolution.
9. The male trouser has got stuck in a rut, particularly the fly which should be transferred to the crotch and designed to open trapwise, permitting the testes, regardless of the whole sordid business of micturition, to take the air unobserved. The drawers should of course be transfigured in consequence.
10. Contrary to a prevalent opinion, there are places in nature from which God would appear to be absent.
11. What would one do without women? Explore other channels.
12. Soul: another four-letter word.
13. What can be said of life not already said? Many things. That its arse is a rotten shot, for example.