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on 16 August 2009
G. is in my opinion the best novel ever to win the Booker Prize. What's not in dispute is that it's the only Booker-winning novel whose author announced in his acceptance speech that he intended to give a large chunk of the prize money to the Black Panthers.

I have always been baffled by people who claim that G. is "incomprehensible", "pretentious", "turgid", or whatever. Compared to most novels, G. is a masterpiece of clarity. Most serious novelists have swallowed more ideas than they can stomach and have failed to digest them, hence the clotted and unreadable quality of your average Booker-nominated doorstop. Berger knew exactly what he was doing with G., and only the fact that it's laid out in discrete paragraphs makes it look more "experimental" than it truly is. This was the early 70s, when people like B.S. Johnson and Christine Brooke-Rose were all the rage in Brit fiction, writing self-consciously difficult novels according to their own rather weird theories about the nature of writing. It was B.S. Johnson who famously remarked that the lesson he had learned from Joyce was that it didn't matter what you wrote about - the only thing that mattered was how you wrote. (Johnson also somewhat contradicted this dictum by insisting for years that all good writing, his own in particular, was obliged to be more or less autobiographical, on the grounds that making stories up is in some way dishonest.)

Berger was not at all interested in such sophistry. He wrote G. the way he did because he was compelled to. He was and indeed still is a distinguished left-wing art critic who had also written one great first novel and two startlingly bad successors. In G., he wanted to combine historical analysis and realistic fiction, because the material he was writing about demanded it. He wasn't the first person to do that. Tolstoy lards great wodges of didactic historical commentary into "War and Peace", which is also a gripping family drama and an exciting war story. All throughout G., Berger skilfully weaves quotes from other writers in such a way that you seldom notice (and don't need to know) that they're not integral parts of the book. (This itself was not unprecedented; Georges Perec's second novel Un homme qui dort was a patchwork of modified quotations from other writers.)

G. is Berger's last attempt to write fiction about the kind of people who were likely to read him. The early 20th century setting should not blind the reader to the fact that we are much more like the characters in G. than we are like the peasant and working-class characters of his later Into Their Labours trilogy. G. is an entirely successful attempt to hold a mirror up to the reader, and as Oscar Wilde predicted, most readers prefer not to be shown themselves - hence the panic and rage some people feel when they read the book. As a mordant, historically aware, unsentimental and yet compassionate account of the moral and political blindness of middle-class society in a certain time and place, this book has never been bettered. Formally, it's one of the most elegant books Berger has written. The prose is among Berger's most imaginative and daring writing. The sex scenes are the more effective for not being erotic. They don't turn you on, because they aren't meant to: they tell you what the sex meant to the people involved. The hero of the book is one of the strangest characters in modern fiction, powerfully present and yet curiously blank. The book haunts you. No other novel I know of, by a living English writer, has such an effortless command of both grand movements in history and intimate domestic detail.

Berger's next book was non-fiction, about the plight of migrant workers. He didn't return to fiction until the late 1970s, since when his novels and stories have focused on the poor, excluded, marginalised and oppressed. I think that some of his later works, (Pig Earth, Lilac and Flag, To The Wedding, From A to X) are as good as, if not better than, the novel that won him the most famous literary award in the English-speaking world nearly four decades ago.

(Why did Berger give Booker money to the Black Panthers? Because Booker-McConnell, who were the prize's sponsor back then, used to have massive investments in sugar plantations, and a dodgy history when it came to worker exploitation in the sugar industry. That was a few takeovers ago. They have since cleaned up their act a bit, and are now a major wholesaler to the catering and retail industries.)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 September 2009
The Booker Prize winner for 1972, this is a quite extraordinary book, telling the story of a boy, the child of an Italian father and an unmarried rich American mother who sends him to her cousin's estate in England to be brought up by Jocelyn (quintessential country gentleman) and his sister Beatrice.

This is not a book for the prudish-minded since there is sexual content and some crudity in the form of schematic drawing. Nevertheless it is an important book in the way it addresses the patriarchal society of the time. It is remorseless in its depiction of sexual politics, but also has two or three exceptionally well-written set pieces, one depicting a riot during the Italian nationalist uprising during the teens of the century, and, later, another covering the situation in Trieste after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. That city was a in a ferment situated as it is on the border between Slovenia (later Serbia) and the Austro-Italian border. By this time G (which stands for George) has been cynically manoeuvred into acting as a kind of spy for the British, but he has no intention of being anything but his own man. Politics is irrelevant to him, sensuality and women interest him far more.

Distinguished throughout by the lack of any plot or even, after childhood and fifteen year-old G's seduction by Beatrice, a coherent story, it is not a conventional novel or an easy read. The writing is curiously stilted at times and given to vast generalisations which are puzzlingly counter-intuitive, as Berger struggles to foreground a contempt for literary conventions. However, the novel consistently works towards a critique of patriarchy and gives a radical depiction of cultural and personal politics in the shifts and upheavals of a changing Europe.
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on 12 June 2001
Berger,J. G
The author: John Berger was born in London in 1926 and educated at the Central School of Art and the Chelsea School of Art. He worked as a painter and drawing teacher before joining the New Statesman as an art critic in 1951. Since 1958 he has been a prolific writer of both fiction (novels, plays and screenplays) and non-fiction.
Synopsis: G consists of a series of episodes in the life of an Edwardian Italo-English Don Giovanni, who dies in 1916, and whose life and death are intended to reflect the end of the old bourgeois order. The episodes are interrupted by comments, personal, historical and speculative, by the author.
In print again - rediscover or discover for the first time this treasure
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 February 2012
I didnt think I was going to enjoy this book at all. I wouldnt read it again, but the writing is incredibly accomplished and beautiful. From the first pages chronicling the relationship of G's parents in Italy, to his childhood on an English farm, his (numerous) love affairs, experiences in WW1 Trieste...
While G is something of a blank canvas, incidents of his life are 'built up' through layers of feelings and observations. Thus a sexually-charged outing with friends, one of whom he is intent on seducing, features precise descriptions of the trees, snippets of irrelevant conversation, the smell of the forest- little irrelevancies that together form a memory.
Although Berger's experimental style works pretty well, I do take issue with him incorporating sometimes quite long and obscure thoughts that detract from the 'storyline' such as it is. The description of G's first romantic encounter is punctuated by a lengthy consideration on 'why does writing about sexual experience reveal so strikingly what may be a general limitation of literature in relation to aspects of all experience?'
I also found felt that the inclusion of two dirty pictures lowered my respect for the author (could he not describe such things in words?!)
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Originally published in 1972 and set mostly in the early 1900s, this book now qualifies as nostalgia in two different ways.

The story is not particularly new, the tale of a rich Don Juan/Casanova-style character drifting and seducing directionlessly through Europe supported by and yet eventually condemned by the liberal company he finds himself in.

The writing style is of a kind when in 1972 would still have been seen as revolutionary. It has broken narrative, unconventional mixing of first- and third-person for both interior thoughts and exterior actions, and of course it is sexually explicit in parts, including a handful of crude (in two ways) drawings inserted into the text for no particular reason. What may have been seen as challenging 'new lit' and worthy of the Booker Prize on its first publication now comes across as a bit messy, self-indulgent, even childish.

The worst thing about the book is the author's tendency to forget that he is writing fiction and write whole pages of sub-Freudian cod-psychoanalysis, particularly to do with sex. It's empty, interrupts the story, and in some places is simply sexism dressed up.

The partly redeeming aspects of the book, for me, were the characters. The women in the book were certainly not as one-dimensional as they could have been. But that wasn't enough to make me think of this book as worth praise.
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on 25 May 2012
The main character is quite exceptional but the author is good at describing human behaviour surrounding him. As a plus the novel takes place in the late 19th and beginning of 20th century and has reference to historic events.
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on 26 January 2003
This is the kind of book that only through the title was I able to remember the hero's name. Its concentration on the priviliged lives of the European genteel and descriptions of vastly dull sex scenes left me cold. It seemed that all the action was happening off stage- the few glipses of trench warfare were the only engaging and moving passages in the book.
Berger's writing suffers from his insitance on "explaining" things but not enough so they are at all understandable. In this repect G seems very much a book for those who like their books to say something about them whilst they gather dust on the shelves. If G is supposed to represent the old order I think the old order was very boring indeed.
The final few chapters involving Nusa, the Slovene- started to become interesting- she was the only character I had any sympahty with.
Fortunatly there are frequent gaps in the paragraphs in this book so you can roughly tell where you were if you drop off to sleep. If you like a book where pretentious people talk about nothing to each other and need an antidote to any kind of passion in sex then this may be the book for you. If you don't then I suggest you read a more worthy booker prize novel- Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, a modern classic.
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on 10 February 2015
I can well imagine that John Berger is (was?) a well-meaning fellow, but I couldn't get on with this. One of the earlier Booker Prize winners, and v. much of that ilk, excepting Kelman. Maybe try again one day when I'm old and grey and nought else to do but fade away. U get the pitcher.
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on 16 May 2001
I have read quite a few Berger books, including (of course) his Ways of Seeing, and the Into Their Labours Trilogy... This one is by far my favourite. The language is superb (as always) - Berger really shows you what the protagonist is dealing with throughout his life. I don't want to give away too much, here...But this is an extremely passionate and sensual story riddled with historical and psychological controversy. Don't miss out.
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on 16 May 2005
I have in my life read most of the Booker Prize offerings, so like to think that I have a reasonable understanding of popular literature. But what was this book about?, I didn't know when I started it and I still didn't know when I was 3/4 of the way through, which is where I abandoned it. As another reveiwer said, definately a book for the coffee table, preferabley to prop up the dodgy leg!!!! and gather dust it certainly will!!
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