Home » England » Ann Quin » Berg

Ann Quin: Berg

Berg was Quin’s breakthrough novel though it has now been forgotten by many, not least because of its experimental nature. It has also been compared to Brighton Rock but, apart from the fact that both are set in Brighton and both tend to show the seedier side of Brighton, there is little resemblance. Unlike Greene, Quin uses black humour, autobiography and a certain amount of obfuscation to tell her story. Her father, an opera singer, abandoned the family and she was brought up by her mother. This book is doubtless influenced by these events.

The story is of Alistair Berg who is determined to kill his father, Nathaniel, for having abandoned his mother, Edith, and himself. He sets off to Brighton, to the boarding house where his father is now living (with his mistress, Judith), intending to kill him. In a series of farcical events, he manages to kill a cat (possibly Judith’s), a budgerigar and another man but not his father. He also believes that a ventriloquist’s dummy is his father. He even (possibly in his mind) dresses up as a woman and seduces his father and he also seduces Judith. In short, both in terms of exploring Berg’s role – which seemingly interchanges with that of his father – and showing the various punishments Nathaniel Berg suffers, Quin seems to be having a go at her own father. The book is surreal and experimental in style but still works well and it is a pity that it is being forgotten.

Publishing history

First published 1964 by John Calder