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Fetch the Scissors

Colin Burrow: B.S. Johnson, 11 April 2013

Well Done God! Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson 
edited by Jonathan Coe, Philip Tew and Julia Jordan.
Picador, 471 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 1 4472 2710 6
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Trawl 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 183 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0036 9
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Albert Angelo 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 180 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0037 6
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Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 187 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0035 2
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House Mother Normal 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 204 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0038 3
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... Until very recently I had never read any B.S. Johnson. I had a staticky reminiscence of what he might have been, which could be represented, using his own idiosyncratic conventions for marking the lapses that run through our consciousness of the world, as ‘experimental … . suicide … . wrists was it?’To clear the static first: these reprints are to celebrate what would have been the eightieth birthday of the novelist B ...

Retripotent

Frank Kermode: B. S. Johnson, 5 August 2004

Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson 
by Jonathan Coe.
Picador, 486 pp., £20, June 2004, 9780330350488
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‘Trawl’, ‘Albert Angelo’ and ‘House Mother Normal’ 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 472 pp., £14.99, June 2004, 0 330 35332 2
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... B.S. Johnson died by his own hand in 1973. He was 40, and the author of seven novels, all of them rather odd in ways that put publishers off because their oddities made them expensive to produce and hard to sell. He bullied the publishers haughtily and often got his way, though at some cost to himself: the books were hard to sell ...

Hindsight Tickling

Christopher Tayler: Disappointing sequels, 21 October 2004

The Closed Circle 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 433 pp., £17.99, September 2004, 0 670 89254 8
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... In Like a Fiery Elephant, his recent biography of B.S. Johnson,* Jonathan Coe writes feelingfully about the perils of too much Eng. Lit. He ‘emerged from the experience of reading English at Cambridge’, he explains in the introduction, ‘imbued with a thriving, unshakeable contempt for anyone who had had the temerity to attempt the writing of literature in the last seventy or eighty years ...

Diary

Giles Gordon: Experimental Sideshows, 7 October 1993

... is even a case to be made for Giles Gordon being the only true inheritor of the late B.S. Johnson’s mantle as one of the serious Anglicises of French modes.’ Heady stuff. No British reviewer or critic would write like that now. Many younger readers (older readers too) have no awareness of B.S. Johnson’s ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe, 10 May 2001

The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... and necessary time-saving devices, back-scratchings and brown-nosings that other writers do their best to disavow. At the end of What a Carve Up! (1994) Coe acknowledges the work of Frank King, and writes: ‘the only repayment I can offer him is to recommend that readers make every effort to seek out these and other novels … and campaign vigorously for ...

Losing the Plot

Francesca Wade: Nicola Barker, 3 July 2014

In the Approaches 
by Nicola Barker.
Fourth Estate, 497 pp., £18.99, June 2014, 978 0 00 758370 6
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... it tends to make their characters pretty angry. Made to suffer cancer, Christie Malry warns B.S. Johnson that he will look stupid when they discover a cure, and anyway, ‘you shouldn’t be bloody writing novels about it, you should be out there bloody doing something about it.’ Jonathan Coe drops in to tell Maxwell Sim that his book is about to end; Sim ...

Aberdeen rocks

Jenny Turner: Stewart Home, 9 May 2002

69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess 
by Stewart Home.
Canongate, 182 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 9781841951829
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... though that doesn’t stop him going on and on about them, at enormous length). But at its best, especially in the fiction, there is a fantastic sense of energy, intellectual fearlessness, contingency, reckless dash. In 69 Things Home has a phrase he uses to describe writing that gives you that wonderful gleeful feeling, ‘the genuine pulp-writer’s ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: The p-p-porn ban, 4 April 2019

... hard to imagine Theresa May gearing up to speak on the matter. Or Philip Hammond. Boris Johnson perhaps, but he’s off the pitch.) And yet the craftier Tories, if any still exist, may see this as an advantage: the party can adopt its traditional, electorally friendly posture in defence of the sanctity of childhood – the same YouGov poll found ...

Skullscape

Jonathan Coe, 12 July 1990

Hopeful Monsters 
by Nicholas Mosley.
Secker, 551 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 436 28854 0
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... act of creation. Mosley seems to intend these novels as a model of the active mind much as B.S. Johnson, in House Mother Normal, stepped off the final page and declared that the whole book was ‘a diagram of certain aspects of the inside of his skull’. Catastrophe Practice began with a play, ‘Skylight’, set on a mountain where the ground was ‘grey ...

Candle Moments

Andrew O’Hagan: Norman Lewis’s Inventions, 25 September 2008

Semi-Invisible Man: The Life of Norman Lewis 
by Julian Evans.
Cape, 792 pp., £25, June 2008, 978 0 224 07275 5
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... own vision, or his own double vision. There’s a very good candle moment in Boswell’s Life of Johnson. As the pair sit down together at the Saracen’s Head in Glasgow, a moth flies into the candle between them. Johnson names the moth ‘Bozzy’ for its habit of burning its wings in the dangerous attempt to get ...

Her Body or the Sea

Ian Patterson: Ann Quin, 21 June 2018

The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments 
by Ann Quin.
And Other Stories, 192 pp., £10, January 2018, 978 1 911508 14 4
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... lurking in dark corners, and now everybody’s writing about her. Since the rediscovery of B.S. Johnson (if that’s what it was) that followed Jonathan Coe’s biography a few years ago there’s been a wave of enthusiasm for ‘experimental fiction’. A new crop of writers such as Claire-Louise Bennett, Kevin Davey, Will Eaves, Eimear McBride and Eley ...

Post-Humanism

Alex Zwerdling, 15 October 1987

The Failure of Theory: Essays on Criticism and Contemporary Theory 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Harvester, 225 pp., £28.50, April 1987, 0 7108 1129 2
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... are less and less in touch with each other. For Parrinder, this represents a betrayal of the best traditions of critical commentary. His model is the sort of literary movement (Romanticism and Modernism are obvious examples) in which ‘there was an alliance between artistic innovation and avant-garde criticism and polemic,’ an ‘intimacy between ...

Play Again?

Matthew Reynolds: Douglas Coupland’s ‘JPod’, 3 August 2006

JPod 
by Douglas Coupland.
Bloomsbury, 448 pp., £12.99, June 2006, 9780747582229
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... with other novels, even those that are called experimental. Usually in such books – in B.S. Johnson, say, or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) – the messing around with words is designed to be expressive: this page is split in half because the character is in two minds; this page is fragmented because the character ...

Beatrix and Rosamond

Daniel Soar: Jonathan Coe, 18 October 2007

The Rain before It Falls 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 274 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 0 670 91728 0
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... It’s probably an accident that his most purely satirical novel, What a Carve Up!, is also his best. Even there, the satire is really beside the point. The book deals with the several members of a superlatively dislikeable clan, the Winshaws, and it’s a toss-up as to which son or daughter of the manse is the most entertainingly despicable. A decade ...

Memories of Frank Kermode

Stefan Collini, Karl Miller, Adam Phillips, Jacqueline Rose, James Wood, Michael Wood and Wynne Godley, 23 September 2010

... were about, but because they were written by him. The Sense of an Ending was (and is) one of the best books I had ever read; and even though he was formidably learned there was no sense of his own superiority in his writing. He had a fluency and a subtlety and a grasp that was unique. It had been impressed on us at school that literary criticism was not ...

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