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In balia di una sorte avversa

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  631 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
BS Johson's infamous book-in-a-box is, if remembered at all, notorious for its presentation rather than its content. The "book" consists of a first and last section plus 25 other chapters, each one coming as a self-contained "pamphlet", that can be read in any order the reader likes. The subject matter concerns a journalist's day covering a football match in Nottingham, re ...more
Paperback, Box set, 140 pages
Published 2011 by Rizzoli (first published 1969)
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Mike Puma
4.5 stars rounded up.
Here it was he talked about the RAF. So? [10 space gap] So must others, for ever, or talk about something like it, and it does not matter to them, now, it cannot have mattered at any time to me, so why this, if it is so meaningless, anything means something only if you impose meaning on it, which in itself is a meaningless thing, the imposition.
…why do reasons matter?...Sometimes I think I shall become a Surrealist.

Another day, another review, hopefully one which will encour

Aug 04, 2012 s.penkevich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Your 'to-read' list
Recommended to s.penkevich by: A little bird told me

How can I place his order, his disintegration?

Through fragments of a randomized collection of memories called up while wandering through a city, the reader explores the life, loves and losses of the narrator. As such a premise would remind many of Ulysses and Joyce’s incredible use of the stream-of-consciousness, B.S. Johnson (1933-1973) manages to create something unique and inventive with The Unfortunates. His story is separated into 27 packets which are intended to be read at random aside f
Mar 25, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Twenty minutes ago, I had this review in the bag. I had taken thorough notes, had arranged them by topic, and had even highlighted passages to quote.

And then B. S. Johnson, the author of The Unfortunates, dropped this bomb on me in the second to last paragraph:

“The difficulty is to understand without generalization, to see each piece of received truth, or generalization, as true only if it is true for me, solipsism again, I come back to it again, and for no other reason. In general, generalizat
Libros Prohibidos
Aug 05, 2015 Libros Prohibidos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Autobiográfica y experimental, Los desafortunados tiene una estructura imposible sin orden (ni físico ni literal) que hace que apenas pueda ser considerada como novela. Johnson consigue de este modo hacer llegar sus sentimientos al lector de la forma más honesta y pura que es posible recordar en toda la historia de la literatura. Reseña completa:
Sep 01, 2008 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a sucker for gimmicky books, so when I saw this "book-in-a-box" no one had to twist my arm to get me to purchase it, and I'm glad I did. Unlike some of the other gimmicky books I've read (House of Leaves, The Raw Shark Texts), you don't get the impression that B.S. Johnson was patting himself on the back for being clever as he wrote this. If the introduction is to be believed, he actually probably was patting himself on the back as he wrote it, but you wouldn't know it to read it. The chapte ...more
Nov 03, 2009 Jasmine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british
Okay this was a book I should have read a long time ago, and I finally read. the content is 4 stars the structure is 3 stars.

lets talk form first. I respect the avant garde thing of splitting up the book. However, content wise:

the book has two pieces memory and present. The memories are these cool intermixed first fiancée/wife and his friend dying and the association of the two, also memories of his first 2 novels. In comparison with present day Ginnie, being a reporter and his son.

this all w
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

Los desafortunados de B.S Johnson. Fragilidad de la memoria, desintegración de la persona

Dice Jonathan Coe en la imprescindible introducción a Los desafortunados:
“[…] a mediados de los cincuenta, ya estudiante maduro, llegó al King’s College de Londres. Fue allí, durante una zambullida, por lo demás rutinaria, en el canon occidental, donde descubrió las obras de Sterne, Joyce y Beckett, a quienes adoptó enseguida como héroes y mentores. A part
Apr 05, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is experimental fiction from the 1960s, and it's the most unusual book I've ever read. It comes in 27 separate sections, unbound, in a box, like boxed sets of greeting cards sometimes do. The first and last sections are labelled so you know where to start and finish, but in between, you read the sections in random order.
It's not just cleverness for the sake of it. It's a representation of a man's mind when he is distracted from his work by grief. It's not difficult to read, it's like eavesd
Nov 22, 2015 Rita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, literature
Yesterday I had a privilege few have. I had this book read to me, all around Nottingham, as close to the venues described in the book as possible. 27 people in character as Bryan were reading different chapters in different places. The feeling of having to track them down following a map and go inside pubs, cafes, the City Council, Broadway cinema, a private house, a parked car, a hotel, etc., they all added to the story making this an incredible experience. Thank you to Excavate and their commu ...more
Apr 20, 2017 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely astonishing book. The structure - a book in a box with a clearly marked "first" and "last section," with the remaining 25 sections unbound, to be read in any order - gives me a lot of inspiration for my own work. But what is more meaningful is how dead-on the "random" structure of the book is to our own organization of thoughts and ideas and events: we have our clear starts and finishes, yet in between our minds go in every direction, never in a straight, chronological, linear orde ...more
Jul 19, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Michael Dirda, Washington Post
Shelves: read-fiction
People aren't supposed to write reviews of B. S. Johnson's The Unfortunates in ham-handed homage to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore. I've finished my incomprehensible review. The next one I write is going to be coherent. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt about an unbound bunch of chapters, chosen randomly from a box.

Listen: B. S. Johnson's journalist hero has become unstuck in time. He ends one randomly-chose
MJ Nicholls
Mar 07, 2010 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samuel Beckett meets Ron Manager.

Isn't it, wasn't it... marvellous.
Marc Nash
Jun 25, 2013 Marc Nash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that comes in a book-shaped box! Twenty-seven sections, one labelled ‘first’, one ‘last’ and the reader is free to choose the order in which they read the interceding 25 sections. This isn’t a device for the sake of being tricksy, but the author wants to replicate the random and unreliable nature that our memories work.

A writer and journalist is sent to cover a soccer match in a Midlands town. As he steps off the train two hours ahead of kick-off, a host of memories rush into his head as
Jan 10, 2008 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Unfortunates is Johnson’s notorious “novel in a box.” Its signatures of varying length are held together by a ribbon and there are 27 of them, the first of which is marked First and last of which is marked Last and those in between were randomly ordered by the collator with the reader invited to further randomize the order. Why, you might ask? The novel is a work of non-fiction in the form of a novel—throughout his life, Johnson insisted on that elusive distinction. It captures the work assi ...more
Mike Ingram
If you live with a significant other, or a roommate, or a parent or sibling or aunt or summer boarder, you could read this book in partnership, each of you taking one of the short sections, reading it, then sorting it into its appropriate pile (I've Read But He Hasn't, He's Read But I Haven't, We've Both Read, Neither Of Us Has Read). This might be a fun game, and a unique kind of bonding experience.

Unfortunately, since I live alone, having a book-in-a-box, the sections of which can be read in w
I loved the idea, and I really loved the reading.
Both the words, and all the shuffling within and between each section.
You know lots of people say 'show don't tell'?
Well this book-in-a-box really does show the vagueness, cloudy, random, but-definitely-fitting-together nature of memory.
It's not just me! I thought
I'm going
to avoid
reading that
Of course the concept of a spoiler is plain wrong if the book in a random order (I physically shuffled my
Jan 10, 2013 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
I picked this up because I was curious about the format and surprised that I had never heard of it (nor had the few colleagues I surveyed; turns out it was not published in the U.S. until the 40th anniversary edition in 2009). I found it a bit cumbersome on the material level and the novelty of the form did not necessarily accomplish anything that a stream-of-consciousness series of reflections might have done. That said, I appreciate that at the time of its first publication, it was quite inven ...more
Jan 18, 2009 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bizarre, book in a box. An fabulous experiment that works --- though it won't be to everyone's taste.
In the late 60s, Johnson, a sports reporter, went to Nottingham to report on a soccer match. A veteran traveler, he didn't realize he had already visited Nottingham before and it only gradually dawned on him that, in fact, not only had he been here before, but this was where a very close friend of his had lived --- and died---a rather long, painful death of cancer.
In The Unfortunates, Johnson at
Spencer Powell
Apr 29, 2014 Spencer Powell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To be honest, the concept of the unfortunates was a lot better than the actual book. Being 27 separate pamphlets meant to be read in a random order is one of the coolest book concepts that I've come across. While the concept is great, the way it was executed wasn't all that great. The story focuses around a man who's best friend is slowly dying of cancer. He retells memories of his best friends death, but the tone throughout the book is a constant, somewhat boring drone. To be honest, if the boo ...more
Mar 31, 2012 Deanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apart from the first and the last, the booklets can be read in any order. A set of memories of a friend brought on by a trip too a midland town. Think it must be Nottingham, castle on a sandstone cliff with caves where people lived into the 1800's. A town with an industry based on lace, and Newstead abbey nearby.
I was worried that this experimental book would be no more than a gimmick, or that I would be annoyed by the stance of a mid-century white male. Happy to be wrong on both counts.

Johnson set out to capture the nature of how we remember things in a disordered manner, and the structure of the book suits this goal well (the book comes in a box which contains a First and Last section, with 27 short unbound sections you can read in any random order). I enjoyed the writing style and the philosophical
Russell George
Sep 11, 2011 Russell George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wrote this fuller review for Lloyd and Rob's blog:

The first thing to say about ‘The Unfortunates’ is that this isn’t a book about football. Although the setting is the narrator’s assignment to report on a first division football match, this is just the tableau for a series of half-recalled recollections on his relationship with a close friend who has recently died of cancer. But football doesn’t, generally, make good literature anyway. Writers and film-makers tend to accentuate or exaggerate asp
The main character is a novelist who goes to a city in England to report on a soccer match (this is how he makes some extra money). The city happens to be where a friend of his, Tony, who recently died of cancer, lived. As he gets lunch, goes to the match, watches, and writes his report, his mind wanders around in the memories of his friend's illness and death, as well as his own history with Wendy (who broke his heart) and the writing of his first two novels.

The book is divided into 27 section
Mar 13, 2017 Jacquie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The format of it was a great way of conveying how your head randomly serves you up memories and emotions, not always reliably. There is an account here of writing about a football match, the event of the novel really as that has brought him back to Nottingham, which is a fabulous account of the search for words when you write, choosing and discarding. It is also, mainly, what feels like a really honest reflection of how selfish grief really is.
the gift
first impression: this in an interesting structure devised to express the time of mourning a friend, a woman, a past, and in its deliberate renditions of vignettes of memories, in its conversational narration, certainly captures evocative recall- but, unfortunately, this is a work that leads me to think more than leads me to feel...

on reflection: to think is not a bad thing, in fact, i like to think. perhaps i will reflect and thus increase my rating, however this is a big perhaps. i may read an
Simone Subliminalpop
Un libro stampato in singoli fascicoli staccati l’uno dall’altro e raccolti in un cofanetto. Primo e ultimo capitolo a parte, tutti gli altri posso essere mischiati a piacimento e letti in ordine casuale, lasciando così inalterato il senso e il piacere della lettura; già solo per questo motivo il romanzo di Johnson è molto interessante in partenza (tra l’altro l’edizione italiana è proprio ben fatta). La storia è all’apparenza semplice, un cronista sportivo che deve seguire una partita di calcio ...more
Mar 02, 2017 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though this book can be a bit tedious at times, I still think it is a very interesting read. I have a very randomly detailed and impressionistic memory myself, so the format of the book--little chapters of recollection that you read in a random order--rings very true to me. This book should be better known.
Orange Postman
Jan 31, 2015 Orange Postman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A switch cycle of stories spread across my chess table, and like the game of chess, there is a first and last move—the variations are not in order. Twenty-seven short stories, to be more specific, some were one page, and others six, but all the stories were part of a timeline for me to choose my first story of B.S. Johnson’s, The Unfortunates. I parted the First and the Last pages before placing the remaining 25 pages clockwise, and then counterclockwise. You are given two instructions by the au ...more
Feb 13, 2009 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
In this book's introduction, Jonathan Coe states that Johnson felt a novel's primary goal was to call attention to itself, to comment on its own limitations, structure, etc. This is not what I think a novel's primary goal is, or should be, and it didn't bode well for my enjoyment of this book. Since the book is unbound, made up of maybe thirty little signatures that you can read in any order (except for the first and last), it's quite obvious that structure was #1 in Johnson's mind. In order for ...more
Jul 28, 2015 Leisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is by far one of the most unique reading experiences I have ever had. Initially, I was hesitant as to how this novel (which is not actually a novel) would come together, but B. S. Johnson has created a beautiful rumination on death and life as it proceeds after a loved one has passed.

As I mentioned, this is not really a novel. In fact, I'd be more apt to call it a memoir of the author's memories surrounding his friend, Tony. What is really brilliant about this book (which Johnson points ou
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2015 Reading Chal...: The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson 1 6 May 27, 2015 06:32AM  
  • Alphabetical Africa
  • The Royal Family
  • The Shrimp and the Anemone
  • Manservant and Maidservant
  • The Three Sisters
  • The Sound of My Voice
  • The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
  • Alberta and Jacob
  • Berg
  • The Rector's Daughter
  • A Legacy
  • Impossible Object
  • Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson
  • Sour Sweet
  • Fortunes of Richard Mahony
  • The Chateau
  • Pointed Roofs
  • Room Temperature
B. S. Johnson (Bryan Stanley Johnson) was an English experimental novelist, poet, literary critic and film-maker.

Johnson was born into a working class family, was evacuated from London during World War II and left school at sixteen to work variously as an accounting clerk, bank junior and clerk at Standard Oil Company. However, he taught himself Latin in the evenings, attended a year's pre-univers
More about B.S. Johnson...

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“In general, generalization is to lie, to tell lies.” 6 likes
“I fail to remember, the mind has fuses.” 1 likes
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