“When the British publisher Chatto & Windus agreed in 1933 to publish Samuel Beckett’s first book of fiction, a collection of 10 interrelated stories titled ‘More Pricks Than Kicks,’ it asked him for one final story, a culminating wallop.
“There was a problem. Beckett had killed off the book’s protagonist, a Dublin intellectual named Belacqua Shuah, in an earlier story. He had to be nonchalantly resurrected. A second problem arose. Beckett’s editor at Chatto & Windus, Charles Prentice, found the new story Beckett delivered, ‘Echo’s Bones,’ to resemble less a comely infant than a troubling heap of placenta and broken forceps.
“’It is a nightmare,’ Prentice wrote to Beckett. This was the start of one of the great rejection letters in literary history. ‘It gives me the jim-jams.’ He declared: ‘People will shudder and be puzzled and confused.’
It’s not you, Prentice continued. It’s me. ‘I am sitting on the ground, and ashes are on my head.’ [. . .]
“Its pleasures border on the painful; you will have to like the sound of breaking glass. You may wish to exclaim about ‘Echo’s Bones,’ as Belacqua does about his re-emergence on earth, ‘My soul begins to be idly goaded and racked, all the old pains and aches of me soul-junk return!’
Soul-junk isn’t a bad term for Beckett’s prose here. ‘Echo’s Bones,’ as Mr. Nixon’s annotations make clear, is a magpie’s assortment of references, allusions and quotations, with nods to Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart, biographies, folklore, movies, popular songs. Set amid all this are cosmic stage directions of the sort we later became familiar with in Beckett. Here’s one: ‘Doyle ate dirt.'” –Dwight Garner, “A Castoff Joins a Master’s Canon: ‘Echo’s Bones,’ A Beckett Short Story Rediscovered,” New York Times