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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Ann Quin

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To purchase Berg

Title: Berg
Author: Ann Quin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964
Length: 176 pages
Availability: Berg - US
Berg - UK
Berg - Canada
Berg - France
  • With an Introduction by Giles Gordon
  • Made into the film Killing Dad, directed by Michael Austin and starring Denholm Elliott, Richard E. Grant, and Anna Massey.

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Our Assessment:

B : challenging but engaging piece of writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . Winter/2001 Ben Marcus
The Independent . 26/8/2010 Lee Rourke
Irish Times A 9/3/2019 Andrew Gallix
The NY Times Book Rev. C 31/10/1965 Martin Levin
TLS A- 25/6/1964 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The prose of Berg is intense, off-key and sometimes odd, but also effortless and free of baggage. It takes the reader to places most novelists could only dream of – both quicker and with surgeon-like precision to boot. I truly feel that it's one of the great British novels (.....) Berg should be read by everyone, if only to give us a glimpse of what the contemporary British novel could be like." - Lee Rourke, The Independent

  • "Berg, Ann Quin’s gloriously twisted debut, is the kind of novel Patrick Hamilton or Graham Greene might have composed had they been French existentialists -- on acid. (...) (A) triumph of post-war literature. A classic of social surrealism." - Andrew Gallix, Irish Times

  • "(A) British item that would have been avant garde in 1922. (...) What should be a subtle montage of emotional states is all to literally spelled out." - Martin Levin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Berg is a remarkable first novel. (...) She possesses the enviable gift of the good novelist, the capacity to maintain concentration on her central theme so that each chapter represents, in one revealing way or another, a microcosm of the whole." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Berg was Ann Quin's first novel, published in 1964. Her style was already distinctive, closer to the experimental French fiction of that time than most British (or American) fiction. She plumbs the depths of her characters, focussing intently on them, trying to recreate each thought, emotion, and reaction.
       Quin writes in a dense style, not elaborating or dwelling on feelings and events but rather trying to present them very succinctly, conveying them precisely but in very few words. Most of the time she succeeds very well: she has a fine ear, and the sentences read very well. Fortunately, so does the story as a whole.
       Berg revolves around its eponymous central character, Alistair Charles Humphrey Berg. A still fairly young hair tonic salesman, Berg has harboured a long and deep resentment against his father, Nathaniel, who walked out on him and his mother when he was very small. Berg finds his father in a seaside town, and takes a room next to his father's under the assumed name of Greb. He plans a patricide.
       The book describes Berg's efforts to kill his father, complicated by -- among other things -- his ambivalent feelings, his curiosity, and -- not least -- by his father's mistress, Judith. In addition, quite a number of often comic misunderstandings arise, and there is a fair amount of bumbling around. A ventriloquist's dummy, a number of animals, and some tramps also manage to get involved in the proceedings.
       Berg's character -- and the promise he seem never to have quite lived up to -- is also more fully revealed in the brief quotes from letters from his mother that are interspersed throughout the text (along with some of his responses and other notes). These also give some of the background about Berg's carefree father. They also jerk the novel out of its focus on the present, helping in suggesting how the situation Berg finds himself came about.
       Poor Berg, never touched in "that crucial centre", is in a sense trying to find himself. His father inflicted a great and lasting hurt on him (and his mother), but the man Berg finds "seems a bit worse for the wear", and quite pathetic in his own right. Killing him might be a release, but Berg seems to understand that it won't be able to make up for much. There is a sense of futility to the act much of the time, even as he wavers between a blind sort of fury and his very deliberate attempts at murder. (Berg also doesn't seem confident of getting away with murder, frequently envisioning himself in the dock.)
       Berg is a deft psychological portrait, and offers a fairly entertaining story. It is also well crafted, and Quin's use of language is especially impressive. Still, it requires some patience and concentration: there are no frills here and few respites. Each sentence seems important to the story, and that can be tiring.

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Berg: Reviews: Killing Dad - the film: Ann Quin:
  • See the complete review's Ann Quin page
Other books by Ann Quin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Ann Quin (1936-1973) published four novels. She won a D.H.Lawrence Fellowship as well as a Harkness fellowship.

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