There is a macabre and nightmarish element to the world created by Ann Quin in ‘Berg’; a world of shadowy somnolence, of darkness and depravity and unreliability as seen through the eyes of the narrator Berg, who visits Brighton to commit patricide but ends of taking his place, ensconced in a world of suffering domesticity which serves to stifle his innate darkness.
Berg, an anomic and anaemic outsider, travels to Brighton under the guise of Greb in order to murder his selfish and self-centred father who abandoned Berg and his mother when he was a child. Quite why Berg felt the need to change his name is a mystery; but then again most of Berg’s actions are shaped by a man who is fraying on the wrong side of sanity. This means that there is a streak of black humour running through the novel as Berg is constantly upended in his grandiose and increasingly grotesque schemes; the dead body of his father is replaced by a dummy, he is nearly raped by his father as he attempts to escape the suffocating flat disguised as a woman, his seduces his father’s wife only leads to his mother taking his father back in. Indeed, every one of Berg’s plans backfire, being the product of a mediocre and mendacious mind.
Quin’s prose ripples and refracts moment of odd, lurid beauty; “Shadow that over-ruled cracks in the pavements, a distorted double face in the windows. Hovering in front of noticed boards, scribbled messages, subtle to the degree of disonconcertion, or were they too obvious for others?” The sense of paranoia which hovers over Berg permeates the novel, as the reader can never really trust in Berg’s observations, with many of them being the fantasies and exaggerations of a deranged mind.
‘Berg’ is the work of a startlingly original literary mind which was tragically cut short; it is a shame that Ann Quin is now more widely know as she stands as one of the most innovative English prose writers of the latter half of the 20th century.