The End by Samuel Beckett ** (#26)
Samuel Beckett is an author whom I have not historically enjoyed; I read both Endgame and Waiting for Godot during my undergraduate studies, and cannot say that I found much merit in either. I was therefore not much looking forward to reading The End, the 26th Penguin Modern book, but decided to go to it with an open mind regardless. Both stories in this collection, ‘The End’ and ‘The Calmative’, follow ‘unnamed vagrants contending with decay and death [and] combine bleakness with the blackest of humour’. The tales were both published in 1954, and were translated from their original French into English in 1967.
Both stories are told in a stream-of-consciousness style. In ‘The End’, the voice of the narrator runs on, barely stopping, and running from one random observation to the next in the same paragraph; it is rare that such observations are at all connected to one another. The voices of the protagonists have been captured well, as have their concerns with the world, but I found them both incredibly odd; indeed, they are almost nonsensical at times. The second story is narrated by a dead man, and is thus even stranger than the first. Both characters are very involved with divulging their bodily functions and excretions, which I personally found quite grim. Despite being so short, both stories felt very long indeed due to the style in which they were written.
New York City in 1979 by Kathy Acker (#27)
Aside from reading the first twenty or so pages of Blood and Guts in High School before deciding it wasn’t for me and putting it down, I was quite unfamiliar with Kathy Acker’s work. ‘New York City in 1979’ is a short story described in its blurb as ‘a tale of art, sex, blood, junkies and whores in New York’s underground.’ Acker is referred to in the same blurb as a ‘cult literary icon’.
This is the first Penguin Modern to include photographs in my ordered reading of the series, and these, which are by Anne Turyn, I enjoyed. I was not keen at all on the accompanying text, however. Its blurb makes it sound rather gritty, which I am fine with. I found the story vulgar, though. ‘New York City in 1979’, which was first published in 1981, is fragmented in its prose style and format, and feels rather cobbled together. There is little coherence here; rather, it feels as though Acker made a series of notes, connected only due to their New York setting, and published them without any editing. The tone is impersonal and detached, and the characters are so shadowy that it is difficult to feel anything for them. I felt as though Acker was shrieking her words at times, a fan as she is of random capitalisation. I found ‘New York City in 1979’ a very awkward tale to read, and the photographs were the only thing here which I enjoyed.