Jon's Reviews > The Unfortunates

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson
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's review
Jul 23, 2011

B(ryan) S(tanley) Johnson is one of the most intriguing writers I know of. A biography of him, LIKE A FIERY ELEPHANT, has recently appeared and there appears to be somewhat of a revival of interest in him (if there can be a revival of interest in a writer as obscure as BSJ). His work was strongly influenced by Beckett but to be honest, I'd take B.S. over Sam B. any day. THE UNFORTUNATES, only recently published in the US, consists of a series of separately bound-together chapters that can be read in any order, aside from the two marked FIRST and LAST. (I read the chapters the way they came, though that may not have been the original order--I read a college library copy and for all I know some previous reader might have re-arranged them).The novel--one of Johnson's most autobiographical, according to the helpful introduction--deals with the early death from cancer of a close friend of Johnson's. We start in Nottingham, where the narrator is covering a football game for a newspaper, and follow the narrator, his friend, and the women in their lives through a somewhat drab, mostly pleasant English landscape of pubs, suburban flats, schoolrooms. My favorite of Johnson's novels is still the scabrous CHRISTIE MALRY'S OWN DOUBLE-ENTRY, but the quality of the writing here is often stunning, and Johnson's problematic, appealing persona comes through on every page.

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