Thursday, June 19, 2014

G.: a novel

G. is a 1972 novel by John Berger. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Booker Prize. Here's the description from Wikipedia:
The novel's setting is pre-First World War Europe, and its protagonist, named "G.", is a Don Juan or Casanova-like lover of women who gradually comes to political consciousness after misadventures across the continent.
selected quotes:
What matters is not being dead
In dreams there are new categories of emotion. In all dreams, even bad ones, there is a sense of immanent resolution such as one scarcely ever experiences when awake. By resolution, I mean the answering of all questions.
I'm laughing at us.
At me because I was frightened?
No, at the two of us here whilst he was crossing the Alps [on a first attempt to cross the Alps in a plane].
He may die.
And one day I'll die and you, too, with your beautiful brown eyes and white teeth. There is never any time to lose.
Don't you have any feelings for him at all?
I had no time.
I don't understand what you say.
No chance ever comes twice.
To be born a woman was to be born within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of man. A woman's presence developed as the precipitate of her ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited cell. She furnished her cell, as it were, with her presence; not primarily in order to make it more agreeable to herself, but in the hope of persuading others to enter it.
The wife so values the time still left her that she is desperate to fill it with new experience.
The widow so despises the time still left her that she is certain that no true experience can enter it.
Both are deceived.
A waltz is a circle in which ribbons of sentiment rise and fall. The music unites the bows and ties them again.
What mattered the first time was what her expression confirmed and what until that moment had been wordless: what mattered then was not being dead. Now, the second time, what mattered was what her expression confirmed and what until now had been wordless: why not be dead?
The stream of involuntary, precise but concatenating memories which filled his mind seemed to elongate his past life. This I have indeed suggested. But it was equally true that, because nothing remembered could be isolated and set independently within its own time, his remembered life also appeared excessively hurried and brief. Memory alternately stretched and compressed his life until, under this form of torture, time became meaningless.
Perhaps death when it arrives is always a mounting surprise which surprises itself to the point at which all reference -and therefore all self-distinction- disappears.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with this book. It was enjoyable enough, and I don't regret reading it. I might use it as an example of books that make a splash when they are published or which win some award or other but which never rise to greatness. How many people, I wonder, would read this book again or who -having read it- would try to get a friend to read it so they they could discuss it together. I bought this book some years ago when I was trying to read all the Booker winners. I'm done trying. The Booker winners are, as often as not, a disappointment these days. I'll check reviews of the winners before I invest time in them from now on.

Time says, "Berger’s acceptance speech just may be more famous than the work itself." The Guardian tells this story:
The Booker, you see, had a dirty little (open) secret. Its sponsors, Booker McGonnall, had garnered much of their wealth, as Berger related in his acceptance speech, from 130 years of trading in the Caribbean. "The modern poverty of the Caribbean is the direct result of this and similar exploitation," he said. He also later told everyone that he was going to give half his prize money to the Black Panthers - who were, as he explained, "the black movement with the socialist and revolutionary perspective that I find myself most in agreement with in this country". Right on!
and in this review says, "you can't enjoy G without taking it as seriously as Berger does, but the sense of a writer giving everything he's got makes that easier than you'd think".


  1. Always enjoy your book reviews. Like you, I often look at the Booker Prize list but don't read everything on it. I like the era this book is set in but think I'll give it a pass.


    1. I'm glad I read it, but I certainly won't read it again. I've donated my copy to the Goodwill store because I couldn't find anybody who wanted it. lol

  2. You read many books and I enjoy your reviews. Have never sought out Booker prize winners. I'm not likely to read this one. I read less in summer than in winter. Just read Between, Georgia and enjoyed it.

    1. I went through a period where I tried to read all the Booker winners and knew I would enjoy them. I'm not doing that anymore. My tastes must've changed.

      I've never heard of Between, Georgia, or that author. I'll keep an eye out for it. Thx!

  3. I have never read anything by Berger and those quotes do not particularly make me want to, but I really enjoyed his tv-documentary "Ways of Seeing" which is on youtube. (Ok, maybe I skipped the feminist discussion parts.) He seems to have been very much of that time; the 70´s version of the sensitive, artistic man.

    1. I've looked up those youtube videos and will watch them. Thx! :) The Wikipedia article says the series was partly a response to Kenneth Clark's Civilisation series, which I remember watching back in the day. I'm a feminist from way back ;), so I bet I'll like those parts. lol