History: Published in 1953, it is the third and final entry in Beckett's "Trilogy" of novels, which begins with Molloy followed by Malone Dies. It was originally published in French as L'Innommable and later adapted by the author into English.
Plot: The Unnamable consists entirely of a disjointed monologue from the perspective of an unnamed (presumably unnamable) and immobile protagonist. There is no concrete plot or setting - and whether the other characters ("Mahood" [formerly "Basil"] and "Worm") actually exist or whether they are facets of the narrator himself is debatable. The protagonist also claims authorship of the main characters in the two previous novels of the Trilogy and Beckett's earlier novels Murphy, Mercier and Camier, and Watt. The novel is a mix of recollections and existential musings on the part of its narrator, many of which pertain specifically to the possibility that the narrator is constructed by the language he speaks. Other 'characters' (a stretch to call them distinctly different than the narrator) serve as the passive recipient of the dialogue and in many places (as the narrator suggests) the dialogue's genesis. The novel builds in its despairing tone until the ending, which consists mainly of very long run-on sentences. It closes with the phrase "I can't go on, I'll go on," which was later used as the title of an anthology of Beckett works
Review: Beckett's theme is what his publishers call "the search for his self." But the search for the self is, inevitably, the search also for the not-self. One's existence is demonstrated to one by outside objects which define one's contours: tables, and people you bump into, Godot, who does or doesn't wait at the end of the long night's journey.
"The Unnamable" is the conclusion of an unconcludable series which began with "Molloy" and was continued with "Malone Dies." "The Unnamable" is a novel about the hero whose identity is unproved, dying, or being born--it could be either. In her memoir Miss Guggenheim describes "Oblomov" telling her one day that "ever since his birth he had retained a terrible memory of life in his mother's womb. He was constantly suffering from this and had awful crises, when he felt he was suffocating."
The I, the narrator, of "The Unnamable," seeking to chart out for himself his physical geographical position says: "I of whom I know nothing, I know my eyes are open because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly. In know I am seated, my hands on my knees, because of the pressure against my rump, against the soles of my feet? I don't know. My spine is not supported. I mention these details to make sure I am not lying on my back, my legs raised and bent, my eyes closed."
Thus Beckett uses the foetal position to describe life, all the life of his unnamable non-heroes. He jumps, as it were from the childhood to second childhood, because his metaphor works best when it describes the search for identity of the about-to-be born, the loss of identity of the senescent.
Opening Line: “Where now?
Closing Line: "You must go on.
I can't go on.
I'll go on."
Quotes: "If I have said anything to the contrary I was mistaken. If I say anything to the contrary again I shall be mistaken again. Unless I am mistaken now. Into the dossier with it in any case, in support of whatever thesis you fancy."
Rating: Like free jazz, or abstract art?