Two old drifters, one tall, one short, a highly intrusive narrator and a cameo appearance by Watt. Beside the acerbic narrator the book consists mostly of dialogue and is often very funny.
Perhaps it is this that is greatest about Mercier and Camier – its timing, its place in the chronology, the knowledge on the part of the reader, and hinted at by the author, of what’s about to follow. It’s ungainly, but probably not inaccurate, to describe it as a practice piece. In it, Beckett rules out, once and for all, the idea that he can achieve what he wants to achieve in prose with anything other than a monologue. And in doing so, he bids a kind of farewell to what had gone before.
If you’ve read Murphy and Watt you’ll be familiar with both the milieu and characters. Though the protagonists are vastly different, in the banter I kept hearing echoes of Spurious.
We didn’t leave anything in the pockets by any chance? said Mercier.
Punched tickets of all sorts, said Camier, spent matches, scraps of newspaper bearing in their margins the obliterated traces of irrevocable rendezvous, the classic last tenth of pointless pencil, crumples of soiled bumpf, a few porous condoms, dust. Life in short.
Nothing we’ll be needing? said Mercier.
Did you not hear what I said? said Camier. Life.