I started my previous Man Booker Prize review by stating that V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State was, at that point, my least favourite. I’ve now read the first 5 winners, and this recent entry is fighting it out for 4th place.
John Berger’s G. is a difficult read. I’m glad I struggled through it, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll revisit, and I can’t say that I’d recommend it to anyone.
G. (or, Giovanni) is an unlikeable character, making his way around Europe in the early part of the 20th Century, bedding women, breaking-up relationships and generally upsetting most of those with whom he comes into contact. He is a serial, touring shagger.
The Don Juan-style escapade is bookended by outbreaks of civil disobedience, and there are threats of violence and injury throughout. But that threat never engages, because the writing is so cold, so emotionless; the language itself being used as a metaphor for G.’s sexual conquests.
Occasionally, Berger’s style is so opaque it feels like it’s masking plot; there are several long paragraphs that describe minute aspects of the story in such detail, that I wanted to close my eyes and fend off an impending headache.
At other times, though, his writing is witty and very quotable.
Chavez has the impression that he is about to enter the jaws of an animal whose passages and gullet and stomach and arse are made of solid rock, an animal whose digestion is geological.
But I draw the line at the way he wrote pretty much all of the sex scenes. If Literary Review magazine held its annual Bad Sex in Fiction award in the early 70s, John Berger would surely have been a contender.
It occurs to him that the very form of the vagina, which he had always assumed was as it was in virtue of his function, has in fact evolved to meet the exigencies of the outward journey of a third person. He is reluctant to withdraw his finger.
And then there is this surreal image:
Her cunt begins at her toes; her breasts are inside it, and her eyes too; it has enfolded her.
It enfolds him.
Next up is JG Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur. If it’s as good as his previous novel, Troubles, then I’m in for a treat.
Speaking of which, here are my top 5 Man Booker Prize winning novels, so far.