Berg by Ann Quin

Berg by Ann Quin

Review by S. D. Stewart

Quin’s first novel is a bit of a squirm-inducing affair. Reading it was like going to a low-key party where you don’t particularly like any of the attendees but they’re all mildly interesting enough that you decide to stick around, because, after all, you don’t have anything better to do and you’ve been to some other pretty good parties in this section of town where you’re almost certain you’ve seen some of these same people in attendance. After a few drinks you start chatting up the host and find that despite your initial doubts he’s oddly fascinating in an oblique kind of way. During the conversation he tends to wander off in his responses to your questions, instead speaking about himself in a vague and often unsettling manner, which over the course of the conversation comes to have a hypnotic effect on you, resulting in brief fugue states punctuated by moments of acute consciousness in which you find the host staring directly into your eyes, as if waiting calmly yet intently for your response to a question he has just posed. The disorienting nature of this dialogue eventually forces you to make up some excuse, need to refill your drink or whatever, so sorry, nice chatting with you, after which you go off and mingle with the other weirdos, except that you keep sensing the host behind you, or at least looking at you from across the room, somehow, from somewhere, retaining and attempting to enforce that tenuous connection the two of you had made during that recent bizarre exchange. Finally, discerning the waning state of the party, and never having been a fan of parties in their latter stages, or even parties in general for that matter, you edge toward the door and you’ve just about made it across the threshold when, wait, wait, he says, just wait a minute, let me show you out, the host ushers you through the doorway, outside into the cold damp sea air where he immediately proceeds to reengage you on some arbitrary to you point that he had been on the brink of making when, so sorry, you had broken off the conversation in order to get a drink was it? Well, it’s not important, except what he had to say apparently was and you can sort of see why when you approach it from a certain angle, after all it is somewhat of a universal story he’s trying to tell you, at least you think so, despite how he’s gone about it, the reluctance to be too forthright and all, but still feeling the need to repeat parts of what he’s trying to tell you, which does make you feel sad and a bit lonesome, not enough to want to go back inside with those people, but maybe enough to pat the host on the back with genuine feeling as you gently explain that now you really must be going and it was a pleasure to finally meet him, after having heard so much about him. And as the gate squeaks shut then, and you set off down the furrowed dirt lane you do feel compelled to turn around and as you turn you see him, the host, still standing out front on the porch, now looking out toward the sea, his back to you and yet you feel like somehow he knew you turned back and wanted you to see him looking out to sea, alone outside his home, which is full of people he doesn’t even like, and which he now has to return to and pretend to like until whenever they decide the party is over and leave.

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