In the second volume of his memoirs, Messengers of Day (1978), Anthony Powell records a 1930s dinner party conversation with Dame Rose Macaulay. No, this lady remarked of some recently published novel (possibly Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust), she hadn't read it yet: besides, adultery in Mayfair wasn't a very interesting subject. 'Why shouldn't you think that an interesting subject?' Powell wondered. Quite right, she hastily corrected herself. 'Subjects are entirely a matter of how they are treated by the writer.'
Indeed they are. All the same, discovering that John Berger's new novel is about some homeless people living in Paris, and is, additionally, narrated by a dog, one begins to think that Dame Rose's original assumption – that there are some subjects (and some treatments) that don't easily lend themselves