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Omnibus: Albert Angelo, House Mother Normal & Trawl (3 titles) Paperback – 4 Jun 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (4 Jun. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330353322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330353328
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

B S Johnson was an experimental novelist, an admirer Joyce of Joyce and Beckett, and his works combine verbal inventiveness with typographical innovations. He was just 4o when he died.

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Format: Paperback
I can't remember, to be honest, how I came to BS Johnson, but when I found this Omnibus, it was too wonderful to resist. (The book design is gorgeous, by the way.) Having not read any of his other works before these three, I was initially worried that his experimental style might prove a hard slog. Fortunately, I was wrong - all three of these novels are not only fascinating works of 'experimental' fiction, they are remarkably easy reading. Sure, they're not overloaded with plot, and there's little here for the students of the Dan Brown school of writing, but anyone with an interest in 20th century English-language literature will find much to enjoy/admire here.

'Albert Angelo' is a good introduction to Johnson, with a few quirks but a fairly straightforward storyline. The section that juxtaposes our narrator's thoughts with his words is very well done, and the cut-out (contrary to the other reviewer here, it seemed in the right place to me - but of course I've not seen any other editions) works a treat. The ending is, well, read it yourself...

'Trawl' was in my opinion the least-compelling of the three here. Not bad, mind you, but I just found less interesting either in content or form than the two either side. Still worth reading, though, for some lovely writing.

'House Mother Normal' is an astonishing idea - the same night at an old people's home, told by seven residents (in descending order of lucidity) and the house mother. Each of the eight characters is allocated 21 pages, all of which match up with the other seven chapters - so when two characters are conversing, you read one character's thoughts & dialogue in one chapter, and the corresponding responses in another - all typeset on the page to show where they're each speaking.
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Format: Paperback
I was surprised to get through the first book in the B.S. Johnson omnibus, his second novel Albert Angelo (1964), in a day. But then it is only 180 pages long, and his liking for typographical idiosyncracy means that pages are sometimes half-filled - or less - with text; and the writing is clear and clean for the most part; and it's not like there's any complexity of plot.
Albert - despite the title of the book it's never clear if that's his forename or surname or both - is an architect in the same way that Dawn from The Office is a children's illustrator. At 28 years old, he is making ends meet while he designs buildings ("Sounds a bit useless to me, mate. What's the use of designing buildings if no-one's ever going to build them?") by working as a supply teacher in a series of rough London schools - in his current stint he is replacing a teacher who committed suicide. The book describes a series of toiling lessons at the school, where the emphasis is more on crowd control than filling young minds with golden nuggets of knowledge, while Albert dwells on his lost love, Jenny (Johnson in an authorial intervention tells us later: "a name I rather like even though I intended it originally to be involved in a rather coarse pun, Jenny Taylor, Jenny Taylor") and the one happy memory he has of her, of a holiday in the west of Ireland.
And that's it. On page 167 Johnson breaks in: "f*** all this lying look what im really trying to write about is writing ... Im trying to say something not tell a story telling stories is telling lies and I want to tell the truth about me about my experience about my truth about my truth to reality about sitting here writing" and gives us about 10 pages of this before tying up the plot of the novel, such as it is, with a nasty, brutal and short coda.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're reading this, you probably know B S Johnson's work. Here we have three of his seven novels: the hypnotic Trawl, set on board a trawler in the Barents Sea; Albert Angelo, about an architect who makes ends meet by teaching in a school in North London; and House Mother Normal, which takes various voices (at various stages of dementia) in a nursing home and plays them one after another before rounding things off with the voice of their carer, the sadistic House Mother. Of these three, Albert Angelo is the most straightforward and is certainly a strong piece of work, although like a lot of Johnson's work it can feel a bit didactic. Trawl is essentially a retrospective of things that have happened in Johnson's own life - his fiction tends to do this - and is quite self-indulgent, although there are moments of blazing insight. It contains some of Johnson's best writing. House Mother Normal is the most experimental of the three: Johnson does characterization in a way that he doesn't always manage, and the experiment (polyphony) works well. All in all, this is a welcome reissue, albeit overdue. The "cut outs" in Albert Angelo (holes cut in the pages to reveal a future event) haven't been done very professionally by the publisher, which is a shame - they don't appear to be in the same place as in the original edition, which might have upset Johnson. Still, this is three long-unavailable novels for the price of one new hardback, and anyone interested in Johnson or in experimental fiction will want to buy it.
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