Thursday, October 29, 2009

John Berger, "G."

When I finish a novel, I typically have in my mind a sense for its shape, its contours. Some are built like boxes, others like ovals, or circles. Then, there are books like John Berger's "G.": these are rare indeed, for they are without any shape at all.
A mixture of philosophy, history, and post-modern meditations on the self and the act of writing, this book defies categorization: it is its own beast, and its central character remains, until the end, as enigmatic as the women to whom he (a sort of Don Juan) is attracted.
Though "G." was awarded the Booker Prize in 1972, I do not consider it Berger's best - or most enjoyable - work. That designation must be reserved for "About Looking," which stands as one of the most insightful collections of essays that I have read (on any subject).
Perhaps, in the end, "G." suffers as a result of Berger's knowledge. That is: the novel is about so much (and so much, all at once) that it fails to come into focus. Berger's colors are always vivid: I only wished that, in "G.," they might have taken shape in a more rewarding fashion.

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