B. S. Johnson, The Unfortunates (1969)

The chapter discusses The Unfortunates as arguably the central example of an experimental strain in 1960s British writing, characteristic of Johnson’s role as the most outspoken critic of what he regarded as the pointlessly anachronistic mainstream of predominantly realist fiction. The novel is also characteristic of Johnson’s oeuvre in that it follows his highly idiosyncratic insistence that ‘fiction is lying’ and that the only reasonable task for the novel is the truthful, autobiographical representation of thought processes. All the novel’s central concerns – cancer, memory, and urban topographies – are characterized by non-linearity and resistance to representation in conventional fiction. The text thus continues Johnson’s preoccupation with the materiality of the book and comes in 27 separately bound sections which, apart from those marked “First” and “Last”, are unnumbered, inviting readers to read them in any order, thus suggesting the random nature of memory, disease and life in general.


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