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This review is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

Beetroot-Growing The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941-1956 [second volume of a projected four], edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge University Press) £30

The excitement of this publishing venture has been best captured by Tom Stoppard, who wrote that 'the prospect of reading Beckett's letters quickens the blood like none other's, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered'. The whole enterprise is nothing less than an intellectual biography of a great writer. The introductory volume (published in 2009) provided us with (to steal a title from Beckett's own hero) an intense portrait of the artist as a young man. The second volume shows us a more mature, established writer, less pedantic now, more measured in his estimations, less severe in his judgements. Dan Gunn in his excellent introduction sums this up as 'a new absence of hostility and recrimination, a lack of grievance toward the world and its inhabitants'. Beckett's earlier hypochondria and spleen seem to slacken with success. Volume two opens with Beckett working as an interpreter and storekeeper to the Irish Red Cross Hospital Unit in Saint-Lô ('a heap of rubble... Of 2600 buildings 2000 completely wiped out. 400 badly damaged and 200 “only” slightly'). One begins to sense the background to the bleak devastation of his plays and novels. Beckett returns to Dublin, only briefly, before taking up permanent residence in France to pursue his (very successful) literary career. We discover him having initial problems with authorities (the gendarmes 'can't believe that I can be called Samuel and am not a Jew') before settling down to a new life in Paris. A ...

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