Wow. I'm so glad that this book was on my syllabus this term.
BS Johnson's The Unfortunates has the most interesting format of any novel that I have ever read. It's essentially a book in a box, and once you open the box up there are a bunch of separated sections, which can be shuffled in any order as long as the section marked "First" and the section marked "Last" are read as such.
The fragmented format, though it may be difficult to adjust to, is incredibly engaging once you embrace it. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style, the narrative, and the way the the unique form of the novel enacted its content.
On a basic level, this story is about a narrator, who seems to be a fictionalized version of Johnson himself, and his struggle with the death of his friend Tony, due to cancer. I really loved the way that the fragmentation of this novel enacted not only the narrator's struggle to remember his friend's life correctly, but also allowed me, as a reader, to experience the narrator's doubts about whether or not life has any meaning.
I'm still having a little trouble articulating my thoughts about this book, but suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience and would recommend it to anyone willing to tackle a unique novel format.
My required reading for school has been a lot heavier than I anticipated this month, so there are going to be a few changes to my January TBR. So far this month, I've read Pyongyang by Guy Delisle for my travel writing class, The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson for my experimental fiction class, and A Dance with Dragons from my original TBR.
In the next week or so, I'll be reading Kathy Acker's Don Quixote for my experimental fiction class, and I hope finish J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King as planned. The Hobbit, however, will have to be bumped to another month, probably February.
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 encourage the reading of The Unfortunates, even though I’m likely to discourage as many as are prodded on. As is frequently the case with the books I’ve been reading, this isn’t one for everyone—it could be, but it won’t be, as it should be, yes, no, maybe, perhaps.
The narrator, one B.S. Johnson, travels to a city to cover a soccer match for a newspaper, and the travel, the pre-match wandering through the city, the sights, all conspire to remind the narrator of an old friend, now deceased, who had been a good friend and trusted ally in the narrator’s budding career as a writer. Rather a bland premise, but…that story isn’t the story. The story is the randomness of recollection, the bits and pieces, remembered in detail or remembered in part. Embellished. Romanticized. Contrived. Non-linear. Scatter-shot. Cumulative while disintegrating. Exactly the way Memory works, the memories that matter.Johnson (the author) employs a style that some may find tortuous. Polysyndetons without the conjuctions, memory upon memory. Heavily punctuated demanding the reader slow down, slow down. Gaps in the text suggesting the narrator’s mind has wandered off, on to something else. Disclaimers undermine and reinforce.
So, about that book-in-a-box—WTF is that? Is it a gimmick? Of course. Is it a useful gimmick? Decidedly. Does it add, embellish, contribute, reinforce? So many questions. The answer, I believe is it does add. It reinforces the idea of the randomness of memory. It reinforces the idea that no two readers ever read the same book.
If you’re lucky enough to have a copy at hand, take a moment. Prop up the front cover from behind—so that the box stands open. Consider the topmost surface covered in a muted, off-white color of satin with a small pillow resting on it. A casket. The contents of which holding the objects of Memory. The contents to which most Memories are headed. A cliché, yes? No.
The joy of this book isn’t in the story. The joy of this book is in the reading.Have a grand day.