cover image Corker's Freedom

Corker's Freedom

John Berger. Pantheon Books, $21 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42722-3

Reprinted in the wake of his success with the Into Their Labours trilogy, Berger's 1964 novel (written eight years before the Booker Prize-winning G , and being issued in the U.S. for the first time) describes a day in the life of a man bent on breaking with his past. Sixty-three-year-old London employment agency owner Corker is Berger's Leopold Bloom--a man plagued by the conviction that he hasn't done enough with his life and who is now determined to free himself from a narrow existence. Blind to all but his need to make some sort of heroic gesture, he begins a fractured odyssey, abandoning his crippled sister and inadvertently bringing tragedy on both of them. The novel chronicles Corker's first heady days at large and their tragicomic aftermath, giving Berger a chance to meditate on the naivete with which we view ``freedom,'' on the ways a restrictive social order defines character and on how our unfulfilled yearnings often run riot in the prisons we build for them. Berger's insights about the dangers of a romantic European ideal, here symbolized by the role Vienna plays in Corker's intellectual life, remain pertinent today. The end--rendered in a postscript--is sad and funny; Corker's Pyrrhic victory is both painful and uplifting. Berger, who cares deeply about his characters, has created an unforgettable one in Corker. (Nov.)