BOOK REVIEW / Waiting for doodle: 'The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett, Volume I: Waiting for Godot' - Ed Donald McMillan & James Knowlson: Faber, 75 pounds

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The Independent Culture
ONCE upon a time he could not get his plays performed or his novels published; today Samuel Beckett's every doodle is jealously preserved in archives and by those individuals fortunate enough to own them. Even his production notes for the plays he himself directed are being eagerly published. Faber is planning volumes on Endgame, Krapp and the shorter plays, but has kicked off with the play that made Beckett famous, Waiting for Godot. The volume consists of a reconstructed text, based on the changes Beckett made for his 1975 Schiller-Theatre production and his 1984 San Quentin Drama Workshop production, plus a facsimile and transcription / translation of notebooks he kept while working on the German production, beautifully produced and with copious notes by the editors.

Four decades of general writing on Beckett have only shown that his work is strangely impervious to criticism. The way towards a deeper understanding of his work has to be through minute analysis of his self-translations, both literal and, in this case, metaphorical. For every new production of a play is a translation or interpretation, and finding out how Beckett interpreted himself helps us see what he thought he was about and how he changed over the years. Of course, as with Stravinsky's recordings of himself conducting his own works, it is always possible to feel that he was not the best interpreter of what he had done. And it is possible that the editors of this volume are right and that, especially with Godot, Beckett's first play to be performed professionally, his later experience could only lead to improvements in what he described, with characteristic deprecation, as 'a mess'.

Even if they are not, to ask why Beckett should have substituted a stone for 'a mound' in the opening tableau, and why he should have had the boy exiting at the end of the first act 'running' instead of 'backwards slowly', is a far better way to enter his universe than to ask what Godot stands for. These working notebooks and the editors' notes to their composite 'revised' text make the reader work too, but the rewards are great. Everyone concerned with this major project should be congratulated.