Sunday 18 March 2018

Fiction: A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

Doubleday, €19.00

Author Jo Baker
Author Jo Baker
A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

Anne Cunningham

Taking her book’s title from the opening directions of Waiting For Godot, Jo Baker (of  Longbourn fame) has written a remarkable fictionalised account of Samuel Beckett’s work for the Resistance in France during WWII. Beginning in Dublin in 1939, we see Beckett’s uncomfortable relationship with his mother. Feeling stifled, he returns to Paris to his friends, including James Joyce.

When war breaks out he flees, along with his girlfriend and later wife, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil. His papers aren’t in order, and his friends begin to “disappear”, starting with the Jewish ones.

His friend Shem ( Joyce) leaves Paris too, and Beckett is forced to go on the run. Suzanne joins him, although you’re never sure how much devotion there is between them.

They stayed together for life, but even in those early years he craved solitude and she thought he drank far too much. 

Some features in this book are echoed in Beckett’s later works, for instance,  his constant suffering with his feet and his boots is endured too by  Estragon in Waiting for Godot. 

Beckett sucks a pebble habitually here, as does his protagonist in  his own novel Molloy.  And although Beckett put himself at great risk working for the Resistance during the war, enduring unspeakable hardship, Jo Baker (pictured) is careful not to depict him as a saint.

Suzanne was as brave and enduring as he during those difficult years. And it is possibly Suzanne who emerges as the real hero in this elegant and beautifully-written work.

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