Picture of author.

B. S. Johnson (1933–1973)

Author of Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry

30+ Works 1,737 Members 39 Reviews 15 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: http://bsjohnson.org/

Works by B. S. Johnson

The Unfortunates (1969) — Author — 407 copies
Albert Angelo (1964) 197 copies
Trawl (1966) 90 copies
Travelling People (1963) 27 copies
See the old lady decently (1975) 24 copies
Poems (1964) 12 copies
Poems Two (1972) 10 copies

Associated Works

The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (1989) — Contributor — 429 copies
Penguin Modern Stories 7 (1971) — Contributor — 15 copies
New English Dramatists 14 (1970) — some editions — 9 copies

Tagged

Common Knowledge

Legal name
Johnson, Bryan Stanley
Birthdate
1933-02-05
Date of death
1973-11-13
Gender
male
Nationality
UK
Birthplace
Hammersmith, London, England, UK
Place of death
London, England, UK
Places of residence
Hammersmith, London, England, UK
Education
King's College, London
Occupations
bank clerk
accounts clerk
novelist
dramatist
poet
filmmaker
Awards and honors
Gregynog Arts Fellow (1969-1970)
Short biography
B. S. Johnson was a British experimental novelist whose work remained 'lost' for many years after his death. (He commited suicide in 1973.)

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Discussions

5. Christie Malry's Own Double Entry by B.S. Johnson in Backlisted Book Club (March 2022)

Reviews

Reader, you should read this if you want to be a good reader.

First of all, I want to say thank you to Mister [a:Luke Haines|2618249|Luke Haines|http://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg]. He mentioned Christie Malry during an interview and concert at the Southbank Centre last summer (which summer I mean you'll have to find out yourself if your interested at all). Later I also read a book by Mister Haynes, called [b:Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll|13578580|Post Everything Outsider Rock and Roll|Luke Haines|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1333581642s/13578580.jpg|19162143]. In this book he luckily mentioned Mr. Malry again, because I had forgotten to write it down.

Christie Malry is funny, weird and devoid of any empathy, or actually full of it. Christie's live sucks and to make it even worse it is entirely not clear if he exists at all.

So [a:Jonathan Coe|19916|Jonathan Coe|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1233589818p2/19916.jpg], I recognized your writings in this bewildering little work of fiction. [b:The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim|7419758|The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim|Jonathan Coe|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1327440360s/7419758.jpg|9369061] No wonder you wrote a whole book on B.S. Johnson.
[b:Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson|90989|Like a Fiery Elephant The Story of B.S. Johnson|Jonathan Coe|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1327941320s/90989.jpg|871001]

This is not a review, just some unorganized information I wanted to share. My tooth is nagging me.

My tooth, the one that's gone, actually wrote this review.

A phanthom review, thank you tooth at last you did something nice!
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Lokileest | 12 other reviews | Apr 2, 2024 |
The novelist B. S. Johnson was deeply distrustful of the imagination, taking the Platonic view that ‘telling stories is telling lies’. And Johnson thought that telling lies was morally wrong. All very well for philosophers, but a position bound to make life a bit tricky for a novelist, you would have thought. He was part of a loose group of experimental 1960s British writers which also included Ann Quinn, Eva Figes, Christine Brooke-Rose and Alan Burns. Except that Johnson was emphatic his novels were not experimental, explaining that although he made experiments, his published books were fully achieved work (well, many people do seem to regard the term ‘experimental novel’ as a euphemism for failure). Although passionate about the form and its possibilities, he didn’t have much time for most contemporary novels and his literary heroes were idiosyncratic ones: Sterne, Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien. Despite his ethical distaste for stories he had a rare gift for telling them, as this brutally funny shaggy dog story demonstrates.

Christy Malry is a young working class man who works in a confectionery factory as an accounts clerk and decides to take night classes to train as an accountant. He learns double-entry bookkeeping with its golden rule-: ‘Every debit must have its credit’. Highly impressed, Christie decides to base his life on this principle and devises his own system of moral double-entry bookkeeping: whenever society commits an offence against him he will take proportionate action to balance the books. Initially, this involves little more than a bit of petty pilfering and harmless insubordination to right wrongs perpetrated against him by managers in the factory. As he becomes more aware of the sheer injustice of society, however, his attempts to balance the books lead him inexorably towards much more serious, darker and deadly actions.

Christie Malry, like most of Johnson’s novels, draws on his own experience. He worked as an accounts clerk in a bakery in the fifties and, like Christie, was from a working class background in Hammersmith. It’s also evocative of Britain in the early seventies - a time of political and industrial conflict and terrorist bombs - with Christie as a one-man Angry Brigade. Rather like Candide, it combines a bleak vision with an insouciant and high-spirited narrative tone. Johnson paints with broad comic brushstrokes and is very, very funny. He subverts his own narrative, throwing formalistic spanners into the works with gleeful abandon. He addresses the reader directly and indulges in undisguised political polemic. The characters are fully aware that they are fictional and, at one point, Christie and Johnson have a conversation about the novel Christie is in and The Novel in general. He reproduces some pages from Christie’s account books which convey his steadily increasing fury (debit column: ‘Socialism not given a chance, 40,734’).

Johnson litters his text with ridiculous and ridiculously abstruse words: exeleutherostomise, incunabula, trituration, ventripotent, sufflamination, vermifuge. Anthony Burgess, who admired Johnson’s novels, used to do much the same thing. With Burgess it always seemed like a deadly earnest and vaguely unpleasant attempt to overwhelm the reader with his erudition, but with Johnson, perhaps because his approach is more extreme and he uses even longer long words than Burgess did, the effect is of a wilfully perverse joke that he is playing with (not on) the reader.

Johnson’s theories about the novel were dogmatic and simplistic. His practice, however, was more complex. In this novel he does indeed tell a story and creates vivid characters. His constant exposure of the fictive nature of his own creation somehow has the paradoxical effect of making it seem more real and thrillingly alive than most naturalistic fiction. It crackles with energy and is compulsively readable and entertaining. Behind its playful surface this book is powered by strong emotions of anger and despair and, in addition to being hilarious, it’s also strangely moving. At about 20,000 words Christie Malry has more ideas and invention in it than many novels twice its length: black comedy, social satire, an unconventional thriller, formal innovation and erotic romance (how could I have forgotten to mention Christie’s girlfriend, the Shrike?).

All this and a highly unusual use of shaving foam.
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gpower61 | 12 other reviews | Aug 18, 2023 |
The British novelist B.S. Johnson believed that ‘telling stories is telling lies’ so, instead of making things up, he tried to tell the truth about his life in the form of the novel. His autobiographical novels are usually described as experimental but this was something he firmly rejected maintaining that, although he made experiments, his published writing was fully realised work and not ‘experimental’ at all.

Albert Angelo, published in 1964, was Johnson’s second novel and the first one he felt came close to achieving his aims: ‘I broke through the English disease of the objective correlative to speak truth directly if solipsistically in the novel form, and heard my own small voice’. It’s based on Johnson’s experiences as a supply teacher in various state schools in North London in the early ‘60s. Albert, a would-be architect forced into teaching to make a living, drifts around the city with his friend Terry and obsesses over a former relationship with a girlfriend. Albert’s pupils become increasingly aggressive and the reader gradually realises that they seem to have a very nasty surprise in store for him.

Johnson may have been a depressive, he committed suicide in 1973 at the age of forty, but he knew how to enjoy himself when writing a novel. Architect Albert studies the form of buildings and Johnson plays with the form of the novel: he punches a rectangular hole into the page enabling the reader to see a future event, divides pages into two columns so we can read both Albert’s speech and thoughts as he gives his class a disastrous geology lesson and scatters essays by Albert’s pupils throughout the text. When Albert finds a fortuneteller’s card in the street Johnson, instead of describing it, simply reproduces the card. He breaks into poetry, switches between first-person, second-person and third-person narrative, dramatic dialogue and internal monologue.

Enjoyable though these formal innovations are, what makes Albert Angelo a great novel rather than merely an ingeniously entertaining one, are other qualities entirely. This book is thrillingly alive in a way that the general run of novels, even perfectly competent ones, simply aren’t. Johnson captures the chaos of life as it is actually lived rather than as it is lived in fiction and writes with unusual passion and an abrasive humanity. He is also extremely funny in a Beckettian sort of way and, in amongst the anger, there are some beautifully tender lyrical passages.

You get a vivid sense of London, the working class London Johnson knew so well and that was disappearing even as he chronicled it; a world of spit-and-sawdust pubs, bustling street markets, Saturday football matches and seedy late-night cafes. Stylistic games aside, for most of its length Albert Angelo has much in common with the British social realist fiction of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with its artistically inclined anti-hero kicking against the pricks of a repressive and philistine society. It certainly paints a damming portrait of the English education system of the time (and has anything really changed?). Then, on page 163, B.S. Johnson himself suddenly and dramatically bursts into his own novel and with the immortal sentence ‘OH, FUCK ALL THIS LYING!’ demolishes the entire elaborate artifice he has constructed. Throwing aside the mask of novelist he proceeds to speak directly, in anguished and urgent tones, about his own preoccupations and the deceptions he has perpetrated on the reader in the course of the novel.

This is a short book and a quick read; an easy read, in fact, but one whose multilayered nature and anarchic humour combined with deep moral seriousness rewards endless rereading. In his polemical essay ‘Aren’t You Rather Young To Be Writing Your Memoirs?’ - one of the last things he ever wrote - Johnson compiled a list of contemporaries who he felt were ‘writing as though it mattered, as though they meant it, as though they meant it to matter’; in Albert Angelo he did precisely that.
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gpower61 | 3 other reviews | Mar 28, 2023 |
3.5 stars

i'll definitely say that the david mitchell who was referenced in stephen m's (very nicely done) review was not the david mitchell i was expecting to be referenced, which is certainly not a bad thing
 
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slimeboy | 3 other reviews | Jan 3, 2023 |

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