"The Terrain is used as a dump. Smashed lorries. Old boilers. Broken washing machines. Rotary lawn mowers. Refrigerators which don't make cold any more. Wash basins which are cracked. There are also bushes and small trees and tough flowers like pheasant's-eye and viper's-grass."
In John Berger's powerful novel King, the Terrain is also home to a small community of the dispossessed. Here, a stone's throw from a highway somewhere in France, in shelters constructed out of detritus, live Jack and Marcello, old Corinna and Liberto, Joachim and Anna, and Danny and Saul. Here also live Vica and Vico, an elderly couple (and couples are a rarity among the homeless) and their dog, King. It is King who narrates this day-in-the-life narrative, and Berger has endowed him with the ability to understand and be understood: "Lying beside the chestnut brazier, something came to me between the ears: the world is so bad, God has to exist. I asked Vico what he thought. 'Most people,' he said quickly, 'would draw the opposite conclusion.'"
What makes King such a singular creation is that despite his philosophical bent and communicative skills, there is nothing anthropomorphic about him. He thinks, behaves, and reacts like a dog, albeit a dog who ponders the existence of the Almighty. Animals are not sentimental, and neither is Berger. His human characters are irrevocably damaged, their lives verge on the unbearable, and their attempts to create family and community at the edges of society are eventually thwarted. There can be no happy ending to this street story, but Berger is after something bigger than making his readers feel good. Instead he shines a spotlight on a world we would prefer to ignore, using the love that Vica, Vico, and King feel for each other to illuminate a humanity that is all too often overlooked. King is not an easy book to read, but it is impossible to forget. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
It's difficult to tell a serious story in the voice of a dog, but that's what art critic (About Looking; Ways of Seeing) and novelist (G.) Berger has accomplished. The canine King introduces readers to a variety of intriguing humans in the squatter's community of Saint Val?ry, France, among them his ownersAthe well-educated but decadent Vico and the uncontrolled and passionate VicaAand Jack, the unofficial landlord of the settlement. The narrative rambles and ambles like its characters, blending speakers' reminiscences with present action; frequently, the squatters explain their pasts and describe how they became homeless. Berger creates a memorable setting for his cast, including an abandoned building jokingly dubbed Pizza Hut and a canyon called the Boeing because remnants of an aircraft have settled there. Though King narrates, much of the novel consists of human dialogue, with King functioning as a passive observer; his infrequent contributions, then, sensual and wise, are all the more notable and surprising. Berger's deceptively spare, disjointed style represents depths upon depths of perception and wisdom; in the bare landscape he has created, each word acquires symbolic resonance. So does each person: the political undercurrent in this tale of scrappy homeless people pushed out of the way by financial expediency will be lost on few readers. In bringing us so believably inside the head of an animal to elucidate the vagaries of human nature, Berger has not only accomplished an impressive technical feat, but has performed a humane act.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.