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The Unfortunates

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  856 ratings  ·  116 reviews
A sports journalist, sent to a Midlands town on a weekly assignment, finds himself confronted by ghosts from the past when he disembarks at the railway station. Memories of one of his best, most trusted friends, a tragically young victim of cancer, begin to flood through his mind as he attempts to go about the routine business of reporting a football match.

B S Johnson’s fa
...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published 1999 by Picador (first published 1969)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  856 ratings  ·  116 reviews


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s.penkevich
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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

...more
Emily
Mar 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Rita
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Doug
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although the edition I got from the library came bound in a single volume, I was able to cleverly skip around the chapters as intended, which did increase the fun quotient, if not making much difference in how one experiences the work. Aside from just the avant-garde nature of his novels, I really enjoy Johnson's use of language, and this makes me want to investigate those of his works I haven't yet read.
Andrew
Sep 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Marc Nash
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Mike Ingram
Jun 26, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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Jasmine
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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Michael
211212: 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
...more
David
Jul 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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Lisa
Apr 05, 2010 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
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Tony
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Dylan Rowen
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
No doubt one of the best novels I've ever read. It's beautiful, I highly recommend. The nature of its construction: pamphlets that the reader is encouraged to rearrange in any order: mirror memories and how they trigger and form in the mind. This novel made me cry - something which fiction ever rarely does to me. But then again, this can hardly be considered "fiction"...
MJ Nicholls
Mar 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Samuel Beckett meets Ron Manager.

Isn't it, wasn't it... marvellous.
Thom Waite
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started ‘The Unfortunates’, I admit, I was a little sceptical. The book itself is separated into 27(?) sections which are not bound together but sit apart in a box; the order in which you read them - apart from the two marked ‘First’ and ‘Last’ - is completely up to you (especially if you, like me, bought it second-hand and, therefore, don’t know what order they were in in the first place). Before I started reading, I wondered if this was a bit of a novelty item; a piece of marketing posi ...more
Emilia E
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
A bleeding and a fragmented soul put on paper, grieving painful loss, betrayal and meaninglessness. Could sound 'so-teenager' but it isn't, this is real. It is a true testimony of the unfortunate place some end up with in the lottery of the chaos the life is. About the vulnerability of each one of us in front of it. About troubles never ending. About death.

The random order of the chapters is not only an experimental style choice, it really goes with the often unfortunate randomness of life the b
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Beth
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Darren
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Tremendously engaging conversational style and famous randomly ordered "pamphlet" chapters make this an unusual reading experience, but it's basically just a man reminiscing about his recent life mainly centred around a particular friendship. The narrator tries (and mostly fails!) to order/make sense of his thoughts/feelings and there is a universality about this that is thought-provoking; also the general sense of melancholy/nostalgia/loss is very well realised. Looking forward to reading this ...more
Deanne
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Addison Hart
Mar 15, 2020 rated it liked it
It's hard to evaluate a novel like this. There's a lot to like about it - the prose, the voice, the conclusion, the tactile feel of the chapters, etc. I enjoyed the experience overall. The trick of the chapter booklets - unbound, randomly assorted - is a perfect complement to the themes of the novel (memory's insubstantiality, disconnection, dissipation) and lends an unusual immediacy to the read. It really does feel like Johnson is talking to you, and that's an exciting feeling.

That said, I ca
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Darcy
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A gorgeously presented & written book. A perfect human ode to loss and how the mind chooses to reflect and wave through memories buried within a town or life event. B.S. Johnson was truly a man of pure thought and talent. ...more
Rick
Jan 10, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Joyce
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
i've wanted to read the unfortunates since my dad bought my uncle a copy for christmas when i was a child, every time we visited i eyed it covetously. a book in a box! unbound! unlike any other book!
so of course on encountering a copy in the charity shop i volunteer in i snapped it up, even it was several pound more expensive than what i'd usually pay for something there. this copy is missing the raised felt sticker on the back of the box with which my dad covered the price on my uncle's copy, m
...more
Lee
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A superb concept for a book, or a book in a box (as it is known)

First off lets describe how it looks, it isn't an actual book, it is a cardboard box designed to look like a book, inside there are (I think) 27 chapters held together by a red ribbon of paper, the there is a first and a last chapter, everything else should be read in a completely random order.

It shouldn't work, it should be a mess but it really isn't, all you are doing is reading and reliving the narrators memories, the unnamed nar
...more
Patrick Gamble
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
B.S Johnson’s ‘book in a box’ charts the random workings of a football reporters’ mind one Saturday afternoon in an unnamed Midlands City (presumably Nottingham). He’s there to report on the big game between ‘City’ and ‘United’, but on arrival he realises that he knows this city better than he first thought.

The novel is split into 27 unbound chapters, that are to be shuffled by the reader and read in whatever order they chose. The result is an astounding work and a dizzying feat of imagination
...more
Carolinemawer
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Now
I'm going
to
maybe
do
a
SPOILER
so
read
no
further
if
you
want
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
...more
Kim
Jan 10, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Spencer Powell
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Frank Clarke
Apr 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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

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