Monday, January 12, 2009

From A to X by John Berger (a review)

From A to X: A Story in Letters
3 out of 5: From A to X is composed of A'ida's letters to her lover Xavier in prison alongside his brief notes scribbled on the backs of the pages. Although this book is classified as a novel, it's really a tone piece. There's no plot, and the few details given that hint at the story's location are contradictory. Clearly, Berger wanted to tell the story of two lovers existing outside of a particular place or time. It's the story of oppression, separation, and continuing hope in the face of it all.

A'ida's voice is sweetly poetic as she describes her days to Xavier in her letters, always focusing on the small events and details of daily life. In one letter, she describes watching a couple dance in a cafe:

The accordionist standing, head almost touching the beams, a few people sitting at tables and in the centre, a couple about to dance--or, perhaps, to dance again for a third or fifth time. She couldn't have been more than seventeen. She stepped out alone, holding her arms a little apart from her body, waiting. Not for her partner who was watching her, bemused. Not for the accordionist who had begun playing. Not for another couple to join her. She was waiting to be carried away by the forces inside her. She was waiting for those forces to emerge. Calmly, her heels a little off the ground, her face open, wrists turned with their palms up, as if to see whether it was yet raining. When she felt the first drop, she would move. The drops came! She circled twice making more than twenty steps and her partner, in a leather jacket and jeans, joined her.
The unique structure of this "novel" is interesting, but the complete lack of any grounding details results in a story that feels insubstantial, like a collection of random musings rather than a cohesive whole.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love epistolary books, but they still need to have a plot. Sorry this one doesn't deliver in that direction.