Although it is a full length novel, “G.” by John Berger almost reads like a series of short stories. G’s life is portrayed through a series of snapshots, from his early childhood, to his career as an adult, and everything in between. With an Italian father and an American mother, G spent most of his life travelling throughout Europe and seemingly, having nothing but fun, even in the midst of a world war. These glimpses of G’s life are interwoven with historical context, providing a clear juxtaposition between G’s sometimes extravagant lifestyle and the horrors of World War I.
Berger’s award -winning novel experiments with many techniques that writers often struggle to incorporate effectively. Beginning in a third-person point of view, the novel quickly changes to first-person, and then to second-person, and back again. While usually this would seem confusing, Berger succeeds in making the story easy to follow and relatable. Berger also incorporates many stylistic choices in his work, such as unusual page breaks, including drawings and sheet music between paragraphs, and leaving out quotation marks around dialogue. I personally find his use of these choices to be effective, but as a reader one must question why he is using them and what they add to the story.
John Berger’s “G.” is not only a great read for fun, but also a work that can inspire us, as writers, to experiment with the formal elements of our stories. Who is to say that we can’t switch point of view halfway through our story? Or jump from a shopping scene to a scene featuring trench warfare? Or include a hand-drawn picture of a goat? Berger pushes the limits in “G.” and hopefully we can all at least experiment with doing the same.