“A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father.”
—-Berg, by Ann Quin, opening line
Ok, a while back I put together a reading plan. Next up on the list, decided by the roll of the die, was Berg, by Ann Quin (I’m skipping the next Zola novel for a while). I started it a few days ago and stalled a bit – it’s a short novel, but dense and difficult.
But then I received notice that the Difficult Reading Book Club is starting back up and tomorrow, Wednesday will be our first get-together of the current round. In the past I have read with this group Gravity’s Rainbow, 1Q84, The Brother’s Karamazov, and Foucault’s Pendulum – difficult, but rewarding books all – I don’t know if I could have dug through all these alone. This time we are reading two books, both by William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! I read The Sound and the Fury in college – about all I remember is how hard is was to get through and/because its unique structure and language. So I’m excited to read it again – with my accumulated decades and the help of the other readers.
However, that put pressure on my reading of Berg. I thought about abandoning it, but I had a few hours this afternoon, so I shut myself up with my Kindle and knocked it off.
Berg is an interesting book – very well written – with a very unique and difficult voice. Is it a good book? It’s right on the edge. With a book as idiosyncratic as this one – to me the ultimate test if if you care, if you give a damn about the characters. Otherwise all the literary gymnastics are just showing off.
In this case, I guess I ended up caring. Nobody is likeable. Everybody is crazy. The author struggled with mental health – she had a breakdown when she finished the novel and needed extensive treatment before she published it – and, sadly, she eventually committed suicide by drowning herself in a setting terribly similar to the novel.
The novel is not very long – I should re-read it and probably will after we finish with Faulkner. It’s worth it if you are looking for an idiosyncratic voice in literature. It is the kind of thing you will like if you like that sort of thing.
One side note I found. There actually is a film version of Berg, called Killing Dad – starring Richard E Grant as the son, Denholm Elliott as the father, and Julie Walters as the mistress, Judith. I have no idea how they would make a movie out of the words on the page. I’m not sure if I want to see it – it may spoil the images I have in my noggin from the text. It is available for free on Tubi if I change my mind.