Written in a manner that is very far from conventional, the book traces the life of G. beginning with his birth to an English lady and an Italian merchant in an illicit affair, his equally peculiar childhood, and his exploits as a modern day Casanova at the opening of the 20th Century.
While fairly short at over 300 pages, reading G. is not as smooth a read as first expected. The continuity of the narrative is all too often broken to make way for lengthy historical accounts that provides the backdrop for the scenes of G.’s life. This includes discussions on Garibaldi, the Italian working class upheavals, the first flight over the Alps, and the beginnings of the First World War.
Interestingly, G., who for the most part, indifferently occupied himself with running after women in spite of the tumultuous events around him, eventually (culminating the development of his class consciousness?) finds himself part of a rioting mob in the novel’s last pages.
Meanwhile, the narrator sometimes break in to ponder on the direction of the story and the manner in which it is told. Then there are not a few playful intellectual digressions and Marxist proselytizing. And the contemplations on sex too are treated in the manner of a witty university professor’s lecture.
Even the circumstances surrounding the book’s winning of the 1972 Booker Prize has an odd turn to it. In his acceptance speech, Berger not only castigated the award’s sponsors for involvement in the colonial exploitation of the Caribbean, he also donated half his cash prize to the Black Panthers Party. G., though not the most remarkable of my recent readings, is simply different. After all, what can be more strange than reading seemingly ridiculous sexual descriptions alongside tracts that could have come from radical pamphlets? ■