How it is

by Samuel Beckett

Paper Book, 1964





New York : Grove Press, 1970, c1964.


Published in French in 1961, and in English in 1964, How It Is is a novel in three parts, written in short paragraphs, which tell (abruptly, cajolingly, bleakly) of a narrator lying in the dark, in the mud, repeating his life as he hears it uttered - or remembered - by another voice. Told from within, from the dark, the story is tirelessly and intimately explicit about the feelings that pervade his world, but fragmentary and vague about all else therein or beyond. Together with Molloy, How It Is counts for many readers as Beckett's greatest accomplishment in the novel form. It is also his most challenging narrative, both stylistically and for the pessimism of its vision, which continues the themes of reduced circumstance, of another life before the present, and the self-appraising search for an essential self, which were inaugurated in the great prose narratives of his earlier trilogy. she sits aloof ten yards fifteen yards she looks up looks at me says at last to herself all is well he is working my head where is my head it rests on the table my hand trembles on the table she sees I am not sleeping the wind blows tempestuous the little clouds drive before it the table glides from light to darkness darkness to light Edited by Edouard Magessa O'Reilly… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Karlus
Reading Beckett I - How It Is

"how it was I quote before Pim with Pim after Pim how it is three parts I say it as I hear it."

Having now spent three months getting through "How It Is" at the rate of only a few pages a day, on and off, a few words about my reactions to it seem justified. I selected it to read from among Beckett's works because of a growing curiosity about his writings that began with reading "Waiting for Godot" after hearing so much about that very well known play. That enticed me further to "Stories and Texts for Nothing", which led to the anecdotal remark somewhere along the way that "How It Is" was his most difficult work. Being in the mood, back around Christmas, for a challenging novel, which moreover is regarded as one of the outstanding works of modern English literature, I opened its covers one day at the bookstore and was immediately captured.

At first glance, it is almost impenetrable. The opening line, given above, says it all.

The style is nearly overwhelming, completely lacking in punctuation of any sort.

The plot is nearly underwhelming, coming late in Beckett's development toward minimal expression.

Characterization is almost non-existent, as a monotone narrator carries the entire story ploddingly along, almost entirely in monologue.

And setting? It takes place completely engulfed in mud. That's right, mud. Above and below and all around. In the hair and mouth and ears. As if the entire action is among voiceless remains of bodies slowly oozing around underground for eons after having died and been buried in wet holes on a rainy day in a very muddy cemetery. Bleak is the word.

But back to the opening line. The wondering reader might by now have mentally parsed that line to say

"How it was. I quote: "Before Pim, with Pim, after Pim. How it is. Three parts. I say it as I hear it."

A glance ahead reveals that the book is indeed in three parts so, emboldened by that correspondence with what one has just tentatively parsed, one is on one's way. Into a solid 147 pages of prose to be parsed and absorbed without hint, with paragraph breaks every now and then, until at the end one is rewarded with

"good good end at last of part three and last that's how it was end of quotation after Pim how it is."

So, next, what is "it"?

An extended metaphor for mankind's completely bleak endlessly meaningless existence? Perhaps, to wit:

"alone in the mud yes the dark yes sure yes panting yes someone hears me no no one hears me no no murmuring sometimes yes when the panting stops yes not at other times no in the mud yes to the mud yes my voice yes mine yes not another's no mine alone yes sure yes when the panting stops yes on and off yes a few words yes a few scraps yes that no one hears no but less and less no answer LESS AND LESS yes"

An existence described extensively earlier on as endless lonely journeys seeking, then encountering another, coupling, tormenting, being tormented, abandoning, then again seeking and repeating, through endless eons. It is all carefully constructed, "mathematically" as the narrator says, as a circle with four points marked around it, A, B, C and D for the four stages, seeking, coupling, abandoning, tormenting/tormented.

And at that moment it occurred to me that perhaps Beckett was here constructing a diabolically inverted cosmology, or at least a detailed underworld in the mud -- perhaps a black satire on the efforts of those mostly medieval theologians who created Heavens and Hells for population by the virtuous and sinners among us, and also a mocking satire of modern-day people who still find meaning in mankind's existence. That would not be entirely out of keeping, either, with the opening act in "Waiting for Godot", which to this pair of eyes, and others, clearly seems to be a metaphor of waiting for the Second Coming of a Messiah whom it will be difficult to recognize -- and might even be missed when He appears.

If any of that sounds interesting, or even intriguing, then "How It Is" might be a book for you. If it doesn't, then there are many more enjoyable books to read.

How do you feel about solving puzzles?
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LibraryThing member iayork
Whither the well-wrought novel?: Beckett mastered standing on both sides of the borderline between convention and experiment. How It Is, both immediate in poignancy and resistant to a straight-forward reading, is wonderful testimony to this incredible ability. What is most wonderful about How It Is, and Beckett's late prose works in general, is how the form of the works speak just as loudly as the meanings of the words, if not louder. If anyone is heralding the death of the well-wrought novel, Beckett has demonstrated a controversal but brilliant way forward. We might baulk at its strangeness, but Beckett's is a very generous strangeness, one that requires work on the reader's part but will give the reader a unique experience of what a literary work can do.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kristelh
How It Is 2 stars for the effort to write a book that makes no sense, has no punctuation and getting people to pay for it.
Well, what can I say? This is a work of Samuel Beckett and I believe his last work before he started writing plays. I can see the results of Waiting for Godet. It is more a work of poetry, not hte rhyming kind but words, phrases, numbers all with out any punctuation. I am not sure I even saw the one apostrophe. Must have fallen asleep in the mud. There is structure; part one "before Pim", part two "with Pim" and part three, without Pim. You do try to make sense of the work, Does the mud stand for life? As with all Beckett's work, this explores the isolation of man. Man starts out alone, may find someone but that union might be best described as sadistic with nails in armpits and various things in the arse and thumps on the head. And there are quaqua all the way, before with and after. A quaqua according to wikipedia is a stem succulent. What I don't get is all the ravings on how wonderful this is when I looked it up on Goodreads. I just am not a lover of all thing Beckett and I think it is perfectly okay to die before you read this.… (more)
LibraryThing member Melissarochell
This book was hard to put down. Makes me think of something John Hollander said in an interview: "A poem that doesn’t get out of hand isn’t a poem." According to that statement, this book was a fine example of true poetry.
LibraryThing member curious_squid
3.6 stars
This book is unlike anything I have ever read before!
There is absolutely no punctuation. For me, this had the curious effect that the book itself seemed to be panting, or throwing words at me in short bursts. Like a desperate effort to communicate.

Surprisingly this really short book took a long while for me to get through. I think because I would read it before bed, and I was unable to concentrate. Not a book for speed reading.

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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
This was a more abstract work by Beckett, at the end bordering to the extreme. There is, relatively, no plot in this novel- it is more an exercise of impending thoughts, patterns, and observations all strung together in an attempt to make a coherent whole. The effects are surprising and this is one of the reasons why Beckett was able to maintain his literary stature. It borders on the absurd, but there are still things to be gleamed here.

3 stars- worth it.
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