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Fetch the Scissors

Colin Burrow: B.S. Johnson

11 April 2013
Well Done God! Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson 
edited by Jonathan Coe, Philip Tew and Julia Jordan.
Picador, 471 pp., £25, February 2013, 978 1 4472 2710 6
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by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 183 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0036 9
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Albert Angelo 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 180 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0037 6
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Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 187 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0035 2
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House Mother Normal 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 204 pp., £12.99, February 2013, 978 1 4472 0038 3
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... Until very recently I had never read any B.S. Johnson. I had a staticky reminiscence of what he might have been, which could be represented, using his own idiosyncratic conventions for marking the lapses that run through our consciousness of the world, as ‘experimental … . suicide … . wrists was it?’To clear the static first: these reprints are to celebrate what would have been the eightieth birthday of the novelist ...


Frank Kermode: B. S. Johnson

5 August 2004
Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson 
by Jonathan Coe.
Picador, 486 pp., £20, June 2004, 9780330350488
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‘Trawl’, ‘Albert Angelo’ and ‘House Mother Normal’ 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 472 pp., £14.99, June 2004, 0 330 35332 2
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... B.S. Johnson died by his own hand in 1973. He was 40, and the author of seven novels, all of them rather odd in ways that put publishers off because their oddities made them expensive to produce and hard to sell. He bullied the publishers haughtily and often got his way, though at some cost to himself: the books were hard to sell ...

Hindsight Tickling

Christopher Tayler: Disappointing sequels

21 October 2004
The Closed Circle 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 433 pp., £17.99, September 2004, 0 670 89254 8
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... In Like a Fiery Elephant, his recent biography of B.S. Johnson,* Jonathan Coe writes feelingfully about the perils of too much Eng. Lit. He ‘emerged from the experience of reading English at Cambridge’, he explains in the introduction, ‘imbued with a thriving, unshakeable contempt for anyone who had had the temerity to attempt the writing of literature in the last seventy or eighty years ...


Giles Gordon: Experimental Sideshows

7 October 1993
... is even a case to be made for Giles Gordon being the only true inheritor of the late B.S. Johnson’s mantle as one of the serious Anglicises of French modes.’ Heady stuff. No British reviewer or critic would write like that now. Many younger readers (older readers too) have no awareness of ...

Through Plate-Glass

Ian Sansom: Jonathan Coe

10 May 2001
The Rotters’ Club 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 405 pp., £14.99, April 2001, 0 670 89252 1
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... and necessary time-saving devices, back-scratchings and brown-nosings that other writers do their best to disavow. At the end of What a Carve Up! (1994) Coe acknowledges the work of Frank King, and writes: ‘the only repayment I can offer him is to recommend that readers make every effort to seek out these and other novels … and campaign vigorously for ...

Losing the Plot

Francesca Wade: Nicola Barker

2 July 2014
In the Approaches 
by Nicola Barker.
Fourth Estate, 497 pp., £18.99, June 2014, 978 0 00 758370 6
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... peril: it tends to make their characters pretty angry. Made to suffer cancer, Christie Malry warns B.S. Johnson that he will look stupid when they discover a cure, and anyway, ‘you shouldn’t be bloody writing novels about it, you should be out there bloody doing something about it.’ Jonathan Coe drops in to tell Maxwell Sim that his book is about to ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: The p-p-porn ban

4 April 2019
... hard to imagine Theresa May gearing up to speak on the matter. Or Philip Hammond. Boris Johnson perhaps, but he’s off the pitch.) And yet the craftier Tories, if any still exist, may see this as an advantage: the party can adopt its traditional, electorally friendly posture in defence of the sanctity of childhood – the same YouGov poll found ...


Jonathan Coe

12 July 1990
Hopeful Monsters 
by Nicholas Mosley.
Secker, 551 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 436 28854 0
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... world is to be thought presumptuous’). The second novel, Imago Bird, followed the London-based adventures of Bert, a mixed-up 18-year-old who – like Mosley himself – happened to be related to a famous politician and afflicted with a nasty stammer. Serpent, the third in the series, was set almost entirely on an aeroplane carrying Bert’s sister ...

Candle Moments

Andrew O’Hagan: Norman Lewis’s Inventions

25 September 2008
Semi-Invisible Man: The Life of Norman Lewis 
by Julian Evans.
Cape, 792 pp., £25, June 2008, 978 0 224 07275 5
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... recently, the art of modern biography was too little influenced by the man who invented it, James Boswell, and, even today, many of those who set out to write the lives of authors seem to be led by a suspicion that everything of interest about the subject might already have been said by the subject himself. The literary biographer is haunted by Nabokov’s ...

Aberdeen rocks

Jenny Turner: Stewart Home

9 May 2002
69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess 
by Stewart Home.
Canongate, 182 pp., £9.99, March 2002, 9781841951829
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... but I really don’t think anyone who is at all interested in the study of literature has any business not knowing the work of Stewart Home. No one and nothing, least of all the work itself, is saying you have to like it: if Home wanted his work to be likeable, he could just set about copying Nick Hornby, same as everybody else. But Home is using writing ...


Alex Zwerdling

15 October 1987
The Failure of Theory: Essays on Criticism and Contemporary Theory 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Harvester, 225 pp., £28.50, April 1987, 0 7108 1129 2
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... are less and less in touch with each other. For Parrinder, this represents a betrayal of the best traditions of critical commentary. His model is the sort of literary movement (Romanticism and Modernism are obvious examples) in which ‘there was an alliance between artistic innovation and avant-garde criticism and polemic,’ an ‘intimacy between ...

Play Again?

Matthew Reynolds: Douglas Coupland’s ‘JPod’

3 August 2006
by Douglas Coupland.
Bloomsbury, 448 pp., £12.99, June 2006, 9780747582229
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... too. In JPod no one would think of writing a computer game as a way of being born again. Now, big business messes around with words. The novel takes its title from the characters’ workgroup, which has been created by an arbitrary alphabetic tyranny: employees whose surnames start with ‘J’ are sent there. This time round, the bunch of geeks, labourers ...

Beatrix and Rosamond

Daniel Soar: Jonathan Coe

18 October 2007
The Rain before It Falls 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 274 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 0 670 91728 0
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... else is going on. Take the satire. In The Closed Circle it turns out that The Rotters’ Club’s Paul Trotter, who at the age of nine was a precocious admirer of Mrs Thatcher and a rabid free-marketeer, has grown up to become a New Labour MP. Spot on, perhaps, as a characterisation of the Blairite hidden agenda. But this is where the satire ends: Paul ...

Memories of Frank Kermode

Stefan Collini, Karl Miller, Adam Phillips, Jacqueline Rose, James Wood, Michael Wood and Wynne Godley

23 September 2010
... were about, but because they were written by him. The Sense of an Ending was (and is) one of the best books I had ever read; and even though he was formidably learned there was no sense of his own superiority in his writing. He had a fluency and a subtlety and a grasp that was unique. It had been impressed on us at school that literary criticism was not ...

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