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Johnson, B(ryan) S(tanley)

novel alasdair narrative fiction

(British, 1933–73)

Johnson was an experimentalist, most famously subverting fiction's conventions in The Unfortunates (1969), his novel-in-a-box which consists of loose-leaf sections to be shuffled and read in any order. Another of his books features a hole in the page. His first novel, Travelling People (1963), disrupts narrative continuity by switching between styles. Prefigured by Sterne's Tristram Shandy, influenced by James Joyce, and to some extent anticipating Alasdair Gray's extravagance with narrative and typographical devices, Johnson's fiction is far less comic. Indeed, it is often enigmatic and pessimistic: the novel-in-a-box actually recounts the narrator's feelings about the death of a friend. The relatively accessible House Mother Normal (1971) is, however, subtitled A Geriatric Comedy. After a period of neglect, A B. S. Johnson Omnibus (2000) makes available again the work of this daring if sometimes frustrating author.

Samuel Beckett, Alasdair Gray  JS

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