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Mercier and Camier

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Mercier et Camier, on which Beckett began work in July 1946, was his first novel written in French. Like most of Beckett’s work, it is deeply autobiographical. The Paris publisher Bordas had first refusal of it under the terms of their contract for the French edition of Murphy, but the firm did so poorly with Murphy that it lost faith in Beckett’s future. As late as 21 February 1959, in a letter to George Reavey, Beckett was referring to Mercier et Camier as something that had been “shelved.” However, in 1970, after periodic prodding by Les Editions de Minuit, Beckett allowed Mercier et Camier to be published. In 1974, Calder & Boyars brought out the novel in an English translation on which Beckett had worked by fits and starts over a period of three years.

Thought by Jacqueline Piater (reviewing the French edition in Monde, 13 June 1970; translation by Jean M. Sommermeyer) to be a try-out of Godot in novel form, the book recounts the travels of two old men who journey from their town. “Encumbered by their baggage . . . which they lose, attempt to find, then abandon, they get no further than the nearby suburbs, return to the city and part company.”