The page 99 test: Samuel Beckett’s Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/Worstword Ho/Stirrings Still

The page 99 test (explanation here) is in many ways a somewhat imperfect methodology. Many texts, such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet are immune to the approach, due to it being 79 pages long. The Faber edition of Samuel Beckett’s Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/Worstword Ho/Stirrings Still, a collection of not-quite short stories, not quite poems, not quite proems is another problematic test case.

Company obviously receives top billing for a reason; it is one of the only ones of Beckett’s later works that can be read in polite company. For example:

“There on summer Sundays after his midday meal your father loved to retreat with Punch and a cushion. The waist of his trousers unbuttoned he sat on the one ledge turning the pages. You on the other with your feet dangling. When he chuckled you tried to chuckle too. When his chuckle died yours too. That you should try to imitate his chuckle pleased and tickled him greatly and sometimes he would chuckle for no other reason than to hear you try to chuckle too. Sometimes you turn your head and look out through a rose-red pane. You press your little nose against the pane and all without is rosy. The years have flown and there at the same place as then you sit in the bloom of adulthood bathed in rainbow light gazing before you.”

As you can see, it’s very nice.

Unfortunately, it’s only nice for 42 pages, and then it ends.

The page 99 test therefore takes us to the mid-point in Worstword Ho. The fact that we start reading it halfway rather than at the beginning makes little difference, the staccato monologue in which it is written, not to mention the demi-paragraphs in which it is arranged do more to obfuscate rather than to illuminate.

“Stare by words dimmed. Shades dimmed. Void dimmed. Dim dimmed.”

The above quotation expresses the kind of distaste for words that only a self-conscious practitioner of them can have. Nevertheless they are a necessary evil, when we think and when we speak, they are the tools that we think through and with.

“No. Shades cannot go.”

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