BEEKEEPING ACCORDING TO SAMUEL BECKETT
(Éditions de l’Olivier, 96 pages, 2012)
*** WINNER OF A FRENCH VOICES TRANSLATION GRANT ***
Martin Page .restores to Beckett his author’s rebelliousness and his political revolt. —Le Monde
Beckett's work offers an outlook on human existence that is bleak and tragic, often coupled with dark humor. Absurd, minimalist work. We know Beckett and his writing. Or do we? In this ingenious short novel, Martin Page combines humor and fantasy to reflect on the relationship between life and art and on the ways the canonization of great artists can obscure the key thrust of their work.
One summer in Paris, an impoverished doctoral student of anthropology is offered an unusual job: to assist the Irish poet and playwright Samuel Beckett in sorting through his archives, and mailing them to eager beneficiaries around the world. Aware of his luck, knowing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the young man decides to keep a journal. The Beckett he discovers is a mischievous, hot-chocolate-loving beekeeper with a colorful wardrobe—very different from the austere and pessimistic man known to posterity.
The first day on the job, the assistant is charged to find four large cardboard boxes, and, not least, to pick up an octopus sandwich at the Greek café. The job is completed well before the end of the initially agreed upon ten-day contract. A scrupulous Beckett, in search of a fair solution, comes up with a plan—why not fabricate some additional archival material since “archives is what they want.”
The two accomplices step out in the city in search of improbable objects and documents to confound and disorient future researchers. Beckett, facetiously but also mindfully, selects plastic handcuffs, language textbooks in Quechua, an X-rated movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and train tickets for strange destinations. At the same time, Beckett finds himself advising from afar the idealistic director of a Swedish prison production of Waiting for Godot. The project is a resounding success but Beckett, ever realistic, has no intention of becoming a hero of good intentions. And, when a journalist compares his celebrity to a prison, he is particularly outraged on behalf those who find themselves behind actual rather than mental walls.
In Beekeeping According to Samuel Beckett, Martin Page slips deftly between fiction—the handcuffs—and reality—the Swedish prison production. He purposefully defies the views that have come to define the personality and work of Beckett. With this delightful and clever novel, he stirs the reader to rediscover Beckett’s writings beyond the iconic Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s personality beyond the clichés.
Martin Page grew up in the Paris suburbs. His first novel, How I Became Stupid (Penguin Books, 2004) was a commercial success and won the Euroregional schools’ Literature Prize, an award given by Belgian, Dutch, and German students. He has written half a dozen other novels, eight books for children and young adults, as well as essays and short stories. In 2010, Penguin Books published The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection: A Novel. Martin Page’s books have been translated into over twenty languages.