‘Berg’ by Ann Quin – A Captivating Sleazy Tale about Killing Dad

 

‘Berg’ by Ann Quin   (1964) – 168 pages

The late author Ann Quin left no doubt as to the plot of her novel ‘Berg’ with the following first sentence:

“A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father….”

The seaside town is unnamed but is probably Brighton, England, Quin’s hometown.

The father walked out on the mother and her small son many years ago, and what makes it even more annoying for the son is that his mother still speaks affectionately of the long-gone father.

“But I’m damned if I’ll allow the old bastard to get away with it, with the past.  I, the son, have every justification, people will sympathize, might even be considered a hero.”  

Now the son has tracked his father down to a broken-down hotel which is across the street from a dance hall, and it is the kind of hotel where men bring back women whom they have picked up at the dance hall.  The son gets a room adjoining the room where his father is staying with the latest of his many girlfriend flames who is almost as young as the son is, and the son can hear them through the wall in bed at night.

“Were they both just the other side, the old man, mole-like, crawling over her mounds of flesh?” 

This wicked novel takes another wicked turn when the son also winds up sleeping with his father’s young girlfriend.

The problem with murdering your father is that you have to get close enough to him so that you recognize the similarities between him and yourself.  As your mother used to say,

“You’re very similar in funny little ways, strange how it comes out like that, isn’t it.” 

‘Berg’ is seaside noir at its tackiest and most sordid. As a novel, I see ‘Berg’ as a cross between the writings of another Brighton writer Patrick Hamilton (author of Hangover Square, among others) and the romans durs of French writer Georges Simenon. It has the dark humor of the murder farce movie ‘Fargo’.  Yet ‘Berg’ has its own trashy magic.  ‘Berg’ was made into a not-very-good movie in 1990 called ‘Killing Dad’.

The author Ann Quin had a sad end.   During her life she had recurring bouts of depression and had endured electroconvulsive shock therapy.  She wrote three other novels besides ‘Berg’.  In 1973 at the age of 37, she walked off the Brighton Pier into the ocean.  Her body was recovered the next day.

Maybe if Ann Quin had lived, English literature might have been wilder, less cautious, and sleazier than it is today.

 

 

Grade:   A

 

5 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds entertaining and noirish! Have never heard of Ann Quin, but take your A’s seriously. (I, on the other hand, give ANY book I FINISH four or five stars.) I do love Patrick Hamilton, so this is a double whammy winner of a review.

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    Reply

    • Hi Kat,
      Apparently there are two types of writers in England, the Oxbridge writers who have comfortable careers and the others who must struggle. Ann Quin and Patrick Hamilton were both outsiders who had to struggle. One of the saddest stories I found concerning Ann Quin was that one time when she was being evicted from her apartment the landlord threw away two of her unpublished novels. That alone could drive a person to walk off the Brighton Pier and never come back.
      There have been appreciative articles about Ann Quin in several of the major British papers, so there has been a revival, and her book Berg is still being published.

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  2. Glad you liked it and I do see the Patrick Hamilton connection. I reviewed this at mine if you’re interested, plus some later Quin. I really liked this book, I think Quin’s underappreciated.

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    Reply

    • Hi Max,
      I haven’t heard much about Ann Quin’s other novels since Berg seems to get all the attention. I’ll read your reviews of later Quin to see if the later novels are worthy of attention.

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