The novel almost exclusively concerns a single character and his story. All other characters and events are deployed to illuminate the thoughts and actions of Lavin. This is in part an effect of the text’s formal organization—centering on Lavin’s journal—but it also results from Berger’s apparent intention to write something like a pure novel of thought, in which plot and character are subordinated to the demands of presenting a conflict of ideas. This is one of the several aspects of A Painter of Our Time that mark it as distinctly modernist, in the tradition of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, Andre Gide, and, perhaps most pertinent to this novel, Jean-Paul Sartre.
This is not to say that Lavin is exhausted as a character by the expression of his thoughts. One gets the sense of a complex personality (even if it is a familiar type, the bohemian artist), of a man who lives and works in an environment that, if one knows London at all, is palpable and recognizable. The problem with Lavin as a character, the one that Berger seems to have set himself, is that, among his friends, he has almost nothing to say. Like other painters and sculptors whom one knows, Lavin is almost subverbal, inarticulate to the point of near autism when in company. Almost the only words he “speaks” in the text are those left in his journal—and this, the reader learns from the first entry, is in itself a sudden departure from his customary practice of...
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