Barry McGovern performing Samuel Beckett’s ‘Molloy’

The video embedded above is one of my favourite voices, Barry McGovern, reading my favourite section of one of my favourite novels.

Molloy is the protagonist of the first part of his 1951 novel, Molloy. Throughout the narrative he wanders around an uncertain city and through an uncertain countryside (albeit one with a distinctly Irish ambience) before being apprehended in and made to commit his narrative to paper. The reasons for this are not stated clearly.

McGovern narrates a point in the novel at which Molloy finds himself at the seaside, determined to initiate a routine through which he can suck sixteen small stones that he has acquired for an equal amount of time. The more he thinks about how this system should be instituted, the more complicated the issue becomes.

This video functions more like a soundscape than a straightforward audio rendering, something I think more aural interpretations of an author’s works should aspire to, especially considering Beckett’s willingness to experiment with radio plays during his lifetime. A slower voice (also McGovern’s?), more drained of enunciation and distorted, both from its apparent distance and from its sounding like a tape recorder, repeats what Molloy has just said and at some points also manages to outrun his lagging train of thought, emphasising Molloy’s cognitive decline. Occasionally the voice will add words to McGovern’s enunciation, or deliver them with a greater degree of terseness

The recording is also interpolated with a number of non sequiturs in the form of an motor starting up and an atonal note from a trumpet. These come to prominence as Molloy is outlining his methodology, undermining the sense that his approach proceeds along rational lines, or that he has a sympathetic listener. Whatever is causing this noise seems pretty determined to drown Molloy out.

McGovern’s voice occasionally increases in volume and proximity, as if he’s suddenly leaning quite intently into the microphone. These articulations have a surreptitious intimacy to them and expands the range of McGobvern’s expression into three or so, normal McGovern, whisper-in-your-ear McGovern and the tape recorder McGovern. This triumvirate suggests the increasing diminution of self-presence, a crucial theme in the Trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. The failed unity of the three is established roughly halfway in when the narrator allows the tension to build for the barest second, before two of them pronounce ‘all!’ slightly out of step with one another.