From A to X: A Story in Letters by John Berger - review by Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker

Prison Notebooks

From A to X: A Story in Letters


Verso 197pp £12.99

You are reading something unusual. The British literary press very rarely gives Big Books by Blokes to women writers for review. I have to hunt down women’s (often irreverent) opinions on the likes of Ian McEwan and Tim Winton in the New York Review of Books. John Berger’s new novel reached the Man Booker longlist. He won the prize in 1972 with an equally alphabetical title – G. Berger’s importance and influence, as a passionately committed, left-wing intellectual, an expatriate literary writer, equally well-known as an art critic and as a novelist, is perhaps most powerful among like-minded writers and academics. Geoff Dyer, an equally unusual writer, is one of his most fervent champions. Berger is a master of shifting registers; his books contain quotations, statistics, polemics. His writing continues to divide his readers.

From A to X is a largely one-sided sequence of letters from A’ida to her imprisoned lover, Xavier. The narrative is fragmented. The text is broken up by drawings of hands, just as G. contained some curious pictures of penises, a hairy hole supposedly representing a woman’s vagina, and the

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RLF - March