Joseph O’Neill on Beckett’s Letters
The Letters of Samuel Beckett – Volume I: 1929-1940 : from a review in the New York Times by Joseph O’Neill, the author of the novel, Netherland.
He writes, with great difficulty and doubt, difficult and doubtful poems. He alternates between self-laceration and cockiness. He is profoundly alienated, not least because he inhabits a world of rejection slips, indefinite longings, extreme aesthetic sensitivity and (in the words of a friend) “passionate nihilism.”
His disorders are physical, too. Although his spleen is clearly in fine working order, he suffers from a series of ailments whose details he entrusts to his stalwart confidant Thomas McGreevy. Most significant are acutely distressing nocturnal “heart attacks,” which lead him to try cure by psychoanalysis. We also learn of pulled teeth, dry pleurisy (“I feel all right except for a reluctance to sneeze & belch”), intestinal pains, boils and — brace yourself — “a sebaceous cyst in my anus, which happily a fart swept away before it became operable.”