Samuel Beckett, in September 1933 dispatched a collection of ten stories to the London Publishing house Chatto & Windus. Acknowledging receipt of the manuscript and accepting the same as worthy of printing, Charles Prentice, the Editor at Chatto & Windus, solicited yet another story from Beckett which would ‘help the book’ by adding weight to the content. Beckett decided to salvage a few excerpts from an earlier work of his titled “Dream of Fair to Middling Women” that was alienated consistently by many publishing works, and put together the eleventh story as requested for by Prentice. Within three days of receiving this story, Prentice politely declined to publish it by stating that “it was a nightmare” which was “just too terribly persuasive”. Eighty years of obscurity later, “Echo’s Bones” makes an appearance courtesy Mark Nixon, the director of the Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading.
It is not at all hard to fathom as to why Echo’s Bones was given the cold shoulder when it was first offered to the publishers. An extraordinarily fragmented story with a frightening criss-cross of genres, Echo’s Bones is convolution extraordinaire. It is so hard to even find a connecting thread of cohesion that links the pages. The very fact that a 51 page story needs to be accompanied by a 70 page annotation speaks volumes about the intricateness of the work. More Joycean in its rendition and more complicated than the most obstinate of riddles, Echo’s Bones poses a formidable challenge to both patience and perspicacity. Calling itself a ‘triptych’, Echo’s Bones revolves around the experiences and exploits of a resurrected man named Belacqua. Once released from the bondage of death, Belacqua proceeds to have involuntary trysts with a prostitute, a giant Lord who is incapable of procreation and who demands Belacqua’s ‘assistance’ to birth his progeny and a groundsman named Doyle, whom Belacqua witnesses sitting on the latter’s own headstone. Echo’s maze is a whorl of incomprehensible words, irreverent wit and inconvenient wisdom. Without an introduction and the handy annotation it is close to impossible to even attempt a reading of this singularly peculiar story that would make you tear your hair out in vexed exasperation and sheer futility. As a mild example, just try digesting this passage:
“Belacqua did as he was bid, because a little bird told him, do you see that his hour had come and that it would be rather more graceful , not to say more sensible to take it by the forelock, and looked down on a bald colossus, the Saint Paul’s skull gathered into a ropy dundraoghaires and a seamless belcher, dangling to and fro that help to holy living a Schenectady putter, clad in amaranth caoutchouc cap-a-pie, a cloak of gutta percha streaming back from the barrel of his bust, in his hand a gum tarboosh”.
I rest my case.