Derik Badman's Journal

2020-09-06 10:31

As I wait for library books to show up, I dove into my B.S. Johnson Omnibus (apparently now out of print), which is three of his novels collected together in their original format/typesetting (which at least in the one I read was important). Albert Angelo is his second novel from 1964. I did not at first like it particularly much, a first person stream of consciousness style that reminded me of his later The Unfortunates but seemed less successful. The protagonist felt at least partially autobiographical (which is also the case in the latter novel) but was not to me likeable. He's a substitute teacher who wishes to be an architect. He spends a lot of time complaining about the school and the students, but late in the novel things start to get more interesting when he assigns the students a paper of telling them what they really think of him. Johnson inserts these small compositions (quite a number of them), spelling/grammar mistakes and all, into the novel, and they provide an alternate view of the narrator, bringing to the fore his unreliability. Then in a very late section of the book, Johnson switches from the protagonist to a metafictional commentary by the author (perhaps just himself, it draws no distance) about the novel and its partial autobiographical nature and his goals and failures. He is very much interested in getting to the "truth" via writing and thus criticizes his own use of fictional devices. The sudden shift makes the novel more interesting, but doesn't totally save it from being... average.

Started in on the second novel Trawl (1966) which is a long rambling narration by man who is very seasick on a fishing ship out at sea. Ironically, it is, like the Nocilla book mentioned last post, composed of very long run on sentences, but unlike the latter Johnson doesn't go on endless for pages at a time. There are breaks and pauses that give the prose more of a rhythm.