Echo’s Bonesby Samuel Beckett
A never-before-published short story by Samuel Beckett—one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century—with an introduction and critical notes by the preeminent Beckett scholar Mark Nixon.
In 1933, Chatto & Windus agreed to publish Samuel Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks, a collection of ten interrelated stories, which was his first published work of fiction. At his editor’s request, Beckett penned an additional story, “Echo’s Bones,” to serve as the final piece. However, he had already killed off several of the characters—including the protagonist, Belacqua—throughout the course of the book, and had to resurrect them from the dead. Despite Beckett’s efforts, the story was politely rejected by his editor and excluded from the collection, as it was considered too imaginatively playful, too allusive, and too undisciplined; qualities that are now recognized as quintessentially Beckett. As a result, “Echo’s Bones” (not to be confused with the poem and collection of poems of the same title) remained unpublished—until now, nearly eight decades later.
This little-known text is introduced by the preeminent Beckett scholar, Dr. Mark Nixon, who situates the work in terms of its biographical context, its textual references, its Joycean influences, and how it is a vital link in the evolution of Beckett’s early work. Beckett confessed that he included “all I knew” in the story, attesting to its importance in his oeuvre. It harnesses an immense range of subjects—from science and philosophy to religion and literature—and combines fairy tales, gothic dreams, and classical myth. The posthumous publication of Echo’s Bones marks the unexpected and highly exciting return of a literary legend.
“It’s pungent early Beckett, written while he was still under the sway of his mentor, James Joyce, but with a soundscape all its own: rude, surreal, death-haunted, sex-addled, dry as bone. . . . The story’s pleasures are real, however, and reside in Beckett’s full tilt, Devil-ready language. His paragraphs unfurl like parades, notations on life’s sick pageant. . . . It’s a punk’s manifesto (Beckett was 27 when he wrote it) that gets at why Beckett continues to matter. . . . Echo’s Bones returns Beckett the troublemaker.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
“[Echo’s Bones] helps us to see Beckett becoming Beckett—a development of some importance in the genealogy of twentieth-century literature. . . . In this story, he is beginning to sense the path toward his own way of walking—that persistent, pointless, but strangely heroic trudge through the valley of the shadow of death that will be the trajectory of his mature work. . . . [It is] picaresque and fantastical . . . vigorous and engaging.” —Fintan O’Toole, New York Review of Books
“A fascinating glimpse at an essential author at the start of his career. . . . [Echo’s Bones is] exuberant, allusive, full of puns and wordplay.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Flights of Wildean repartee alternate with a Joycean ornateness of prose. . . . [Echo’s Bones] contains in embryo Beckett’s whole extraordinary world of comic dread and Dürer-like imagination.” —Financial Times
“An elaborate, mock-heroic fantasy that combines existentialism with elements of Dante’s Divine Comedy. . . . It is Echo’s Bones that shows us the things that Beckett would do so well in later decades.” —Arifa Akbar, The Independent
“Echo’s Bones, with its comic brio and ostentatious learning, is a significant link between a novice intellectual and the mature author of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated plays.” —The Economist
“Glorious rhythms, ideas and wordplay . . . a rewarding and stimulating read for lovers of language and artistic inventiveness.” —Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A wonderful, mind-bending curiosity.” —Guardian
“[In Echo’s Bones] we see clear signs of the features that will blossom into Beckett’s distinct aesthetic: the existential angst and the dialogue in which neither party is making any genuine contact. Best of all, the absurdist humor, mixed with despair.” —The Independent
“An extended prose poem, an exercise in beautiful language and striking image . . . this short text finds its rightful place among Beckett’s novels, plays and poems.” —Kirkus Reviews
“We see Beckett the late-modernist offering homage to his overweening exemplar James Joyce and at the same time twisting and thrashing as he tries to fly the Joycean nets and become his own man. In the end, it is as a part of the record of this struggle that Echo’s Bones is of interest. . . . This volume is a masterpiece of scholarship.” —John Banville, New Statesman
“A fascinating immersion . . . sincere and gravely serious.” —Arts Fuse