ISBN: 2879292891
ISBN 13: 9782879292892
By: John Berger

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Reader's Thoughts


For me, this book's greatest strength lies in Berger's imagery. He takes the simplest moments and gestures--the tilt of a head, the way a hand lays against a thigh--and creates images of astounding beauty. Second to Berger's ability to draw images is his grasp of the meta-fictional voice. So many authors, in attempting to write meta-fiction, over-write. Berger's meta-fiction felt very natural. It not only occured in a very organic way within the narrative, it also complimented the themes of the book. By taking the reader outside of the narrative and forcing them to focus on the nature of writing--the inherent distance of reading or writing about a life, versus living it--Berger comments on the same themes that surround the sexual and emotional relationships in the book. Connected to this is Berger's explicit belief that it is impossible to write truthfully about sex. By admitting this, he draws the reader's attention to that fact, which, as a result, forces the reader to view every sexual act and encounter within the book analytically. While I enjoyed Berger's writing style, I think the book's greatest failure is in the subject of its narrative. G himself is not only unsympathetic (a character trait that usually doens't bother me very much as a reader), but is incredibly distant. Berger obviously created this distance on purpose, as seen not only through his use of the single initial rather than a name, and through his on-going statements about the impossibility of truly seeing anything from G's perspective. While I can appreciate this in theory, the lack of connection with the main character left me unmotivated to keep reading. Overall, it was a book I could enjoy in fits and starts, but when I put it down, I rarely had any desire to pick it back up. Berger's experimentation was successful, but the distance that this experimentation created was almost too successful to make this an engaging read.


This book slips about like a shadow out of the corner of your eye: it is part stream of consciousness, part epic historical fiction, part literary eroticism. I cannot say I liked it, but I also cannot deny that it was brilliantly written.G. is the illegitimate son of an Italian candied fruit magnate and his rich American mistress. He is raised by his mother's cousins on an English farm and grows up in isolation. The rest of his adult life is a series of unlikely romantic escapades (despite the virtue of the woman he encounters and his apparent hideousness) that make him blind to the sweeping global changes that are happening around him.The use of refrain and rhythm were mesmerizingly employed. However, there were a number of choices the writer made that baffled me: (1) the lack of quotation marks or spacing or anything else to indicate in page long dialogue who is speaking; (2) the insertion of a ghostly omniscient but impotent narrator who is present in all scenes, has personal opinions and other random memories; (3) the occasional random didactic philosophizing that a went a bit beyond the story; (4) the random pencil drawings of penises and vaginas that made this an awkward book to read on the subway.That said, I can see why it won it's awards. It was very well done and effective.


I just remembered this novel again, thinking about the Booker Prize (it won in 1972), because of how experimental and sort of 1960s 'psychodelic and surreal'. It deals with the feelings post-WW1 of a caddish guy, how he begins to see the and understand the world more clearly afterwards, a world where WWI is clearly a definite demarcation line. I remember that it impressed me at the time, though the writing wasn't 'my thing' at all.

Frederik Verrote

Annoying to find out that you got irritated by the more contemplative essay- like parts and clearly preferred the more dramatic chapters. It gives you the feeling that you're probably not intellectually sophisticated enough to savour this pm novel. I was really touched by Bergers collection of stories Here is where we meet, but this one was a bit lost upon me.


It's really been too long since I've read this one...it's complicated, rich in terms of texture, and it's ideas in terms of the exploration of relationships, even feminism, are the most forefront in my mind as I recall it. However, it's a complex book deserving of more of a description and I have read too many books inbetween then and now to not get some details mixed up.

Sally Flint

I did not understand chunks of this book at all. Dragged myself through it, only because I am doing the let's read all the man-bookers challenge, but otherwise would have definitely given up. As it was the last third got a cursory skim through. There were sentences and phrases that were sheer brilliance, and I understand it was supposed to post-modernist - i.e. difficult to follow, but I didn't really see why it fulfilled postmodernist criteria (perhaps that is silly thing to say in itself.) The opening part about the protagonists childhood made sense, and then the seduction by a female relative, whilst not really worth writing home about, at least fit with the blurb on the back. I started to lose my way with it with the whole death of the pilot, try as I might I can't really figure what he was getting at. And the last third... well.. lost on me completely. So he was a womaniser, and was an admirer of Garibaldi, but the link with the Balkans was too hard for me and the behaviour at the ball. Genuinely perplexed. Wasted a good deal of time ploughing through it and now feeling quite stupid that my understanding was so little. If anyone can enlighten me as to what it was all about I would be grateful.

Melanie Campbell

This was the first John Berger book I read. I picked it up in high school randomly while working at Borders. I've been hooked ever since. It would be interesting to go back and reread this particular book, since I've been slowly making my way through his other books for the last 15 years.

Eli Greenlaw

I just finished this book and already I'm dying to read it again. I think it's best enjoyed in small doses. In any number of places he lulls you to sleep with some pretty boring text, then he gets 'inspired' or something and begins to rattle off some of the most beautifully worded and descriptive language I've ever heard.I need to write more, to give some examples, but I have to head off to work! I will be updating this review within the next few days.Cheers!


from my 1985 notebook - alternately fascinated and irritated by its philosophical/political meandering interrupting the narrative. Far from seamless. But, interesting, as they say. Good on desire, sex, how things are perceived - with all our attendant ideas, thoughts, preconceptions and misconceptions. (like Ways of Seeing then).

Philip Lane

A sexually explicit book that I didn't find offensive. The sex is brief and not very frequent. The affairs of G are quite proportionate to the other elements of his life which include schooling, enthusiasm for early flight and espionage. The book is set in the early years of the 20th century in northern Italy. There are a number of exciting events, such as the first attempt at crossing the Alps by plane. It is also a philosophical novel and investigates to what extent sexual feelings can be expressed in words. Thought provoking.


Just started G, one that's long been on my list. I love anything by John Berger, but G is really captivating me at the moment. Fun fact: Berger won the Booker Prize for this novel in 1972, and, having learned that the Booker family earned its money from its Carribean slave plantations, he lambasted them in his acceptance speech and then donated half of theprize money to the Black Panthers. Ha!

Darya Conmigo

An unmistakable Berger-crafted thing; beautiful, sad and quirky. Not his best work overall to my taste though - his short prose is infinitely better (and yes, this is coming from me, a classic novel reader). Or maybe what I really mean to say is, his later prose is better, this being one his earlier works.In any event, I applaud the 1972 Booker prize committee. I don't think a book so, um, different could have won today.

Alex Rendall

I find it very difficult to adequately summarise John Berger’s G. This may partially be due to the difficulty in categorising John Berger, who can at once be described as a painter, art critic, novelist, essayist and sociologist. Berger has contributed much to a number of varied fields and his knowledge of multiple subject areas imbues his work. G. is a sweeping novel that spans genres and at times appears to blur the lines between fiction and fact.The novel begins in Italy in 1898 and follows the life of the eponymous G. across Europe, as he loves then leaves a succession of women. Written in the picaresque genre (by definition a novel which follows a rakish character in his or her exploits, such as Don Juan or Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders), the narrative at times backs away from G. to focus on the historical or political situation in Europe at the time. Berger also sometimes breaks from the story completely to discuss abstract concepts with the reader, such as the appreciation of the female form or the expression of love. At times he uses ‘I’ to break down the barrier between himself and the reader and bring himself into the tale, rather than being a purely incidental third person narrator. I confess that I found these forays into Berger’s philosophy to be quite distracting from the development of the narrative. Whether Berger intended for this to be the effect is unclear, but I feel that rather than adding an extra layer of meaning to the work this comes across as baffling in its pretentiousness.This is an accusation that I would level at the novel as a whole. The lack of coherence between these breaks and the central tale render the narrative disjointed and unfocussed. Perhaps if I knew more about artistic theory I might appreciate some of these abstract meditations, but they are incomprehensible to the layman and make the novel seem opaque and inaccessible. Other elements of Berger’s story are disappointing. G.’s tale unfolds at unerringly different paces; Berger at times spends pages describing a single afternoon, building up a truly beautiful descriptive picture of a scene, but then spoils it by rushing crucial elements of the story (G.’s death in particular feels like an after-thought that was hurried along in order to meet a publisher’s deadline). The sweeping historical viewpoint, while at times interesting, has a didactic air about it which gives Berger the feel of a lecturer attempting to impose his views on his readers rather than independently presenting the narrative. At times I felt that Berger was attempting to tell me how to think, to convince me that only his world view was the correct one. I didn’t understand elements of what he was trying to say but I am not the type of person who enjoys having views imposed upon me!G. is not an unsatisfying read. If one ignores the frequent deviations from the plot and takes the story at face value, it is fairly entertaining. I doubt however that this is all that Berger intended for his work and, given the number of awards that it won, I suspect I may have missed something important that critics with greater knowledge than I were able to interpret. I think that it has all the charm of an epic blockbuster movie; it may be massive in scope and may have won lots of plaudits, but I found it impossible to warm to in the same way as other novels. G. is not the kind of book that one can curl up with and enjoy; it sees itself as being far too grand for that.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

Like what I said in my review of Zamyatin's "We," I believe I've found a fair explanation of why the books included in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die made it on the list, and this I found in another listing, the 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die where the Introduction explained the choices by these justifications:1. the painting (book) is interesting because of its subject matter;2. the painting (book) is interesting because of the way it is written; and3. the painting (book) is important because of its relation with other paintings (books).Most readers look for stories so it is no wonder that many of the 5-star ratings here are given to those books falling under No. 1. Some, however, are connoisseurs of style, or admirers of the grotesque or the adventurous, and they would give high ratings to those falling under No. 2. Others are more attune to literary history ("this author is one of the pioneers of modernist writing of which his novel __________ is a perfect example"), or lovers of nostalgia ("this novel was the very first of its genre") and would lend more sympathetic ear to those falling under No. 3.I say that those falling under No. 2 are often the most difficult to appreciate; those under No. 3, often the most insipid and boring; and those under No. 1 often the most easy to read and give the most satisfaction (unless the reader hates the subject matter).These categories may explain why a book can get 1 star from one reader yet get an exctatic 5 stars from another. A reader, for example, who is always expecting books to be under No. 1 will definitely hate those he reads which reveal themselves in the end to be either under No. 2 or No. 3. This novel, for me, is a definite No. 2. It has a plot: the principal protagonist "G." is a Don Juan, a seducer of women, son of a rich Italian father by his English mistress. He discovered the joys of sex at an early age, under the tutelage of a much older woman. This is told behind the backdrop of pre-world war 1 Europe (Italy, in particular). But it is not the plot which makes this an interesting read. Inserted between the lines of the main plot are amusing, and often brilliant, sidebars and digressions like crude drawings of cunts and penises (one penis is even smiling), meditations, mini-essays, aphorisms and observations about varied topics like love, sex, literature, women, history, heroism, madness, revolutions, and so on. Here, for example, is one about blackberries (the fruit, not the phone) and sexual experience--"Why does writing about sexual experience reveal so strikingly what may be a general limitation of literature in relation to aspects of all experience?"In sex, a quality of 'firstness' is felt as continually re-creatable. There is an element in every occasion of sexual excitement which seizes the imagination as though for the first time."What is this quality of 'firstness'? How, usually, do first experiences differ from later ones?"Take the example of a seasonal fruit: blackberries. The advantage of this example is that one's first experience each year of eating blackberries has in it an element of artificial firstness which may prompt one's memory of the original, first occasion. The first time, a handful of blackberries represented all blackberries. Later, a handful of blackberries is a handful of ripe/unripe/over-ripe/sweet/acid, etc., etc., blackberries. Discrimination develops with experience. But the development is not only quantitative. The qualitative change is to be found in the relation between the particular and the general. You lose the symbolically complete nature of whatever is in hand. First experience is protected by a sense of enormous power; it wields magic."The distinction between first and repeated experience is that one represents all: but two, three, four, five, six, seven ad infinitum cannot. First experiences are discoveries of original meaning which the language of later experience lacks the power to express."The strength of human sexual desire can be explained in terms of natural sexual impulse. But the strength of a desire can be measured by the single-mindedness it produces. Extreme single-mindedness accompanies sexual desire. The single-mindedness takes the form of the conviction that what is desired is the most desirable possible. An erection is the beginning of a process of total idealization."At a given moment sexual desire becomes inextinguishable. The threat of death itself will be ignored. What is desired is now exclusively desired; it is not possible to desire anything else."At its briefest, the moment of total desire lasts as long as the moment of orgasm. It lasts longer when passion increases and extends desire. Yet, even at its briefest, the experience should not be treated as only a physical/nervous reflex. The stuff of imagination (memory, language, dreams) is being deployed. Because the other who is palpable and unique between one's arms is--at least for a few instants--exclusively desired, she or he represents, without qualification or discrimination, life itself. The experience = I + life."But how to write about this? This equation is inexpressible in the third person and in narrative form. The third person and the narrative form are clauses in a contract agreed between writer and reader, on the basis that the two of them can understand the third person more fully than he can understand himself; and this destroys the very terms of the equation."Applied to the central moment of sex, all written nouns denote their objects in such a way that they reject the meaning of the experience to which they are meant to apply. Words like cunt, quim, motte, trou, bilderbuch, vagina, prick, cock, rod, pego, spatz, penis, bique--and so on, for all the other parts and places of sexual pleasure--remain intractably foreign in all languages, when applied directly to sexual action. It is as though the words around them, and the gathering meaning of the passage in which they occur, put such nouns into italics. They are foreign, not because they are unfamiliar to reader or writer, but precisely because they are third-person nouns."The same words written in reported speech--either swearing or describing--acquire a different character and lose their italics, because they then refer to the speaker speaking and not directly to acts of sex. Significantly, sexual verbs (fuck, frig, kiss, etc., etc.) remain less foreign than the nouns. The quality of firstness relates not to the acts performed, but to the relation between subject and object. At the centre of sexual experience, the object--because it is exclusively desired--is transformed and becomes universal. Nothing is left exterior to it, and thus becomes nameless."The next paragraph after this quote has crude drawings of a penis pointed at a vagina.Now lest you get the impression that this is but a member of an avant-garde collection of sex books with scholarly pretentions, I will assure you it is not. For example, this paragraph reminds me of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal:"At a time when national independence has become or is becoming a conscious issue, one may find in an undeveloped and colonized society, within one family and even within one generation, extraordinary differences of knowledge and sophistication; yet such differences do not necessarily constitute a barrier. The one who has received a higher education at the hands of the imperial power (for there is no other education available) is aware of how consistently his own people's history and culture have been denied, and he values in his own family the vestiges of the traditions which have been suppressed; at the same time the other members of the family may see in him a leader against their foreign oppressors whom until now they have only been able to fear and hate dumbly. Educated and ignorant share the same ideals. The difference between them becomes a proof of the injustice they have suffered together and of the rightness of those ideals. Ideas become inseparable from aspirations."As a No. 2 book this is amazing. Read as No. 1, I could give it 3 stars, although (or even if?) it does not have a happy ending. I do not know if it is an "important" novel under No.3, but I confess this was the first novel I've read which is written in this manner.


I know it has been a while since I last posted a Booker Prize review, there is a very good reason for that, this novel took me a very long time to conquer. And a serious battle it was. You know that feeling when you pick up a lauded book, you struggle with it, but you have that determined psyche, the one that says “you will not beat me”. Unlike a number of other Booker Prize Shortlisted novels (and “The Satanic Verses” springs to mind here), I am proud to say this one did not beat me. I won!!!Essentially “G.” deals with the life (from birth to death) of a man we simply know as G., the son of an Italian candied fruit seller and his mistress, the daughter of an American mother and “her father, now dead, a general in the British army”. At a young age G. is farmed off to live with his relatives, has a minimal relationship with his parents, acts throughout as a “Don Juan” (the novel’s reference not mine), witnesses the first flight over the Alps, is in Trieste during the outbreak of War etc etc. However it is not the narrative which is important here, this novel is a complex mix of emotions, philosophical ravings, lyrical observations and more:For a full review visit my blog at www.messybooker.blogspot.com

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