Yell, Sam, If You Still Can by Maylis Besserie, the first of her Irish trilogy, shows us Samuel Beckett at the end of his life in 1989, living in Le Tiers-Temps retirement home. It is as if Beckett has come to live in one of his own stage productions, peopled with strange, unhinged individuals, waiting for the end of days.
This novel is filled with voices. From diary notes to clinical reports to daily menus, cool medical voices provide a counterpoint to Beckett himself, who reflects on his increasingly fragile existence. He remains playful, rueful, and aware of the dramatic irony that has brought him to live in the room next door to Winnie, surrounded by grotesques like Hamm or Lucky, abandoned by his wife Suzanne who died before him.
Besserie delights in Beckett’s bilingualism and plays back and forth between the francophone and anglophone properties of language, summoning James Joyce as Beckett reminisces about evenings the two spent together singing, talking and drinking. Largely written in the library of the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Besserie has kept the hum of Irish voices throughout this work.
Yell, Sam, If You Still Can won the “Goncourt du premier roman”, the prestigious French literary prize for first time novelists, just before the country went into lockdown. Besserie is now planning a further two novels that will explore the links between Ireland and France and is touted as the new star of the French literary world.