on 8 August 2014
This book is intricate with its descriptions - sometimes way too intricate in that you begin to wonder the purpose of their form - and I found it to be a very hard read in places. Indeed, so convoluted are some descriptive passages that the author actually feels the needs to justify his prose mid-description in places!
The story itself traces the life of an individual from his conception to his ultimate undoing in a series of episodes set against a backdrop of the social and political upheavals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe. I am interested in this period of history but, even if you are not, you should find that this backdrop adds something to the, otherwise, ponderous storyline.
Perhaps the biggest complaint I have is that the book is divided into three stand-alone sub-stories that are really only connected by the main character and these three subdivisions I rate as, in order, largely superfluous, pedestrian and (at last) interesting. The fact that I found the book prompted no sympathy for the main character meant that I found myself often asking why I should continue reading.
Some professional reviewers have described this novel's structure as like watching a painter constructing a picture, stroke by stroke, on a canvas. Personally, if I go to an art gallery, I only want to view a pleasing picture, if I want to understand a picture's structure, I enroll in an art class. When I read a book, I want to be intrigued or entertained, not ponder upon the intricacies of its development and perhaps that is why I gave it three stars when, burdened by the knowledge that this is a Booker winner novel, might give the expectation of five stars.
Finally, perhaps this may give perspective to my review: I first read this novel in 1973 and decided to give it another read, some 40 years later, because I found myself unable to recall any detail whatsoever from my original encounter with it.
on 3 February 2014
'A mazurka is simultaneously a race and the music which celebrates the winning couple. For so long as the music continues each couple is the winning one.'
John Berger's extraordinary novel won the Booker in 1972. We follow episodes in the life of the eponymous G. through his sexual liaisons and 'conquests' in the late 19th and early 20th century. Whilst the text is overtly sexual, occasionally accompanied by line drawings of human genitalia, this is not a work of 'erotic' fiction. It deliberately references Don Juan and Anna Karenina, whilst at times reading like a cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and a textbook by Freud. Philosophical reflection and historical context are as significant to this difficult but ultimately rewarding book as the sexual encounters. The writing is at times quite beautiful. The settings are brilliantly described and seem well-researched. The characters are varied and depicted as recognisably flawed individuals rather than simplistic ideals. Perhaps the greatest challenge to a reader of G. is that there is very little about the chief protagonist to be liked, admired, or even pitied. He demostrates a casual disregard for others, as he is portrayed as a philandering wastrel whose only pleasure seems to be in the conquest and his ability to shock. His whole life appears to be no more substantial than a dance, and one day the band will stop playing his tune.
'The waltz is a circle in which ribbons of sentiment rise and fall. The music unties the bows - and ties them again.'