Review: G, by John Berger (DNF)

I will admit up front that I did not expect to like this book.  A few years ago, a book blogger’s review led me to believe that both the style and subject matter would probably not appeal to me.  But in my quest to read all Booker Prize winners, I knew one day I’d have to give it a try.  And so I did.  Fifty pages later, the style and subject matter were not appealing to me.  Not in the least.

I’ll pad this non-review with the product description from

Fascinating…an extraordinary mixture of historical detail and sexual meditation…G. belongs in the tradition of George Eliot, Tolstoy, D. H. Lawrence and Norman Mailer.” — The New York Times

In this luminous novel — winner of Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize — John Berger relates the story of “G.,” a young man forging an energetic sexual career in Europe during the early years of this century. With profound compassion, Berger explores the hearts and minds of both men and women, and what happens during sex, to reveal the conditions of the Don Juan’s success: his essential loneliness, the quiet cumulation in each of his sexual experiences of all of those that precede it, the tenderness that infuses even the briefest of his encounters, and the way women experience their own extraordinariness through their moments with him. All of this Berger sets against the turbulent backdrop of Garibaldi and the failed revolution of Milanese workers in 1898, the Boer War, and the first flight across the Alps, making G. a brilliant novel about the search for intimacy in history’s private moments.

That sounds pretty juicy, but by the time I gave up on this book “the principal protagonist” (as he is often referred to) was still a little child.  Yet he had already been  aroused by the feeling of his head leaning back against his governess’ dress.  Um, yeah.

The description led me to believe this would be a character-driven novel, but it quickly became apparent this would be a novel of ideas.  That’s not a bad thing, but combined with the choppy writing style, this book really didn’t work for me.

I feel a bit guilty not sticking with this longer, but it simply didn’t hold my interest and, after all, reading should be fun.

Bookmark and Share


14 thoughts on “Review: G, by John Berger (DNF)

  1. I think I was probably the one to put you off this one! I did get to the end, but found the sexual descriptions to be deliberately controversial and not things that added to the plot. It has aged very badly too. I hope your next read is better!

    • Jackie, I remembered that you didn’t like this book, and re-read your review on The Complete Booker just before posting mine. It did make me laugh! There was another blogger, whose blog is no longer active, who gets credit for creating my initial bias. Your review “seconded the motion” and is the main reason why I gave this book only 50 pages before saying, “blech”!

      And as to your other comment (Book Depository + eBay): what a superb idea !!!

  2. I have this book in my TBR….with a different cover. I wonder what I’ll think of it when I get to it. Definitely, I’d have to be in the mood for reading a novel in the format you describe (ideas, rather than plot-driven).

  3. Oh dear. This is my double dipper pick for the Battle of the Prizes Challenge. I’m glad to know that the characterization in the first bit is at odds with the idea-driven focus in the second bit. Thank you for the warning.

    • RCR, I just read your review and loved it … left a comment for you there. And of course you can link to my review — no permission needed!

      I’ve decided to read more freely in 2011 and so I’m not doing any challenges. I’m sure I’ll still be reading prize winners though … it’s what I do !

  4. I loved it. But I can understand why others would not. I find the links, connections and analogies he makes between objects and experiences invaluable. Even when I couldn’t grasp Berger’s exact meaning, I felt its worth. Or hoped it would someday come to me while buying a tin of beans at the local store; or perhaps it would come, more likely, when I’m reading another novel of his or a fellow writer. I thought: He’s trying to communicate something difficult, and I just don’t get it…yet. Perhaps I never will. No matter.

    Too often I think we readers like to feel like an astronaut gazing upon the earth from a spinning shuttle, able to fit the entirety of it under an extended finger (like a painter trying to gauge space). But even from this vantage point, only half a world can be seen. The other half is in darkness. John Berger writes from that space between the dark recesses of unconsciousness with its portals to other worlds; and the seeming reasonableness of conscious life. He unsettles us with his jump-cuts. He’s a writer who probably loves Kubrick’s famous great leap forward from pre-historic Man to space-age Man in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. He seems to describe spaces around events, often bringing his own position as narrator into play. He’s like the painter Manet who paints narrative scenes, but never lets you forget you’re looking at paint.

    I think the novel gives you a sense of the flux and confusion of the modern era. The individual pitted against the world. The protagonist G. is not after fans or followers. You probably won’t like him. He’s put together in daubs. My own mother and father met because she needed the toilet and so asked a passing stranger, my father. Three years before I was born they applied for divorce. From that first meeting to their eventual divorce when I was fifteen all could be described as dream. A chapter in a book of dreams. All comes down to moments.

    G. grabs his moments. But they’re not the moments of great men. While THEY are breaking records and focussed on the great march forward of so-called progress, he is seducing and is being seduced by women. His hatred for the ruling classes is palpable. He is awkward and ugly and sinister (sinister because he somehow seems unmoved by events). He makes love to women with broad shoulders and big hands. He himself is short with small hands.

    Has it dated? I’m not sure I know what this means really. It was written fifty years ago and it is full of ideas and insight about what it means to be alive now, up close and personal.

    When the astronaut gazes down at the little earth and slips it behind an extended thumb out of sight – does he realise that’s only the half of it?

    • Chris, I loved your comments. I was going to read it anyways, despite all bad reviews. Your perspective makes me take shorter to get the book. “an astronaut gazing upon the earth” is a great metaphor. We want to believe that we have a safe place to land at.

Comments are closed.