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How do we process experience? Must our public selves imprison our true identities? Is individual destiny meaningful in a world of chance? These are some of the questions explored by the British Berger (author of the Into Their Labours trilogy, etc.) in his quirky 1963 novel, now getting its first US publication. William Corker is the elderly owner of a Clapham, South London, employment agency, which he runs with his clerk, 17-year- old Alec Gooch. Save for a coda, the action is confined to one day in April 1960 when Corker and Alec are at turning-points in their lives. Corker has just moved out of his invalid sister Irene's house; Alec has had his first sexual experience with his beloved girlfriend Jackie. The thoughts of employer and employee are commingled with visits by job applicants. Alec's mental world is defined by the office and his relationship with Jackie, which has filled him with confidence in his body and his future; as the day goes by, Alec perceives his boss differently--as helpless and fallible. Corker's case is more complex. His flight from his intimidating sister, and the recovery of a long-lost sense of destiny, have made him impatient with his own persona. That evening, during his lecture/slide-show in a nearby church-hall on his favorite city of Vienna, his impatience causes him to supplement his lecture-notes with a highly personal prescription for happiness. It is a moment of liberation for Corker. His subsequent discovery that his office has been burgled clips his wings, but the Corker we glimpse two years later--a seedy, mildly dishonest soapbox speaker--seems at peace with himself. Neither Alec nor Corker (whose love life is curiously omitted) seems interesting enough to be subjects of a Joycean illumination. An intermittently perceptive novel, then, that lacks the economy of Berger's later fiction.
Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1993
ISBN: 0679755136
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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