Author(s): B. S. Johnson
B.S. Johnson s lost classic has been showered with praise: New York Magazine named The Unfortunates one of their Ten Best Books of 2008, listed in The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2008, and The Los Angeles Times declared it to be his most daring work. A legendary 1960s experiment in form, The Unfortunates is B. S. Johnson s famous book in a box, in which the chapters are presented unbound, to be read in any order the reader chooses. A sportswriter, sent to a Midlands town on a weekly assignment, finds himself confronted by ghosts from the past when he disembarks at the train station. Memories of one of his best, most trusted friends, a tragically young victim of cancer, begin to flood through his mind as he attempts to go about the routine business of reporting a soccer match. The Unfortunates is a book of passionate honesty and dark, courageous humor: a meditation on death and a celebration of friendship which also offers a remarkably frank self-portrait of its author.
The 27 sections of this novel are not bound together but come in a box so that, apart from the first and last sections, they can be arranged and read in any order. With unselfsparing autobiographical rigour, Johnson (who, ever a provocateur, stated that “telling stories is telling lies”) tells of a journalist who travels to [Nottingham] to report a football match and is constantly put in mind of previous trips to the city to visit a friend who died young of cancer. Memories of Tony and his decline are intruded upon by unbidden memories of a former lover who once accompanied him on a visit. Johnson gives scrupulous attention to how the concrete mundane either ignites emotional significance or provides a respite from (or impediment to) emotional significance when touched by the seemingly haphazard movements of the mind (hence the unbound sections) as it attempts to face but cannot bring itself to face the inevitability of death. “I fail to remember, the mind has fuses.” The Unfortunates is an impressively alert and careful portrayal of memory’s capacities and shortcomings, and an exacting yet moving portrayal of loss. - Thomas
Far from some modernist stunt, the form of the book dovetails beautifully with Johnson s subject the accidental yet persistent nature of memory .This book, with no belief in God, no hope of heaven, makes you feel the stuff of life as sacred, and our inability to hold on to it as damnation enough for anyone to be made to bear. --Charles Taylor