I’m just starting in on the novels of B.S. Johnson, but so far I’m in agreement with Nicholas Lezard and The Complete Review: Johnson is surprisingly funny and accessible for an “experimental” writer. I’m reading Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, wherein bank-clerk hero Malry decides to approach his life as a balance sheet: every offense received is a debit, for which he is entitled to exact a payment (or credit). For example, he gets a piece of junk mail advertising flower bulbs. Feeling “slightly Debited at the waste of his time,” he “promptly Credited himself by sealing the envelope without putting anything in it and going out at once to post it.” The left side of the ledger records the debit:
May 3 | Bulb importuning | 0.03
And the right, the credit:
May 3 | Bulb firm’s reply-paid envelope returned empty | 0.03
Other debits include:
Oct 1 | Unpleasantness of Bank General Manager | 1.00
Oct-Apr | Branch atmosphere, as described | 4.50
Oct-Apr | Specific lambastings from Chief and Assistant Accountants | 2.30
May 3 | Unpleasantness felt in presence of Reverend | 0.04
June 2 | General diminution of Christie’s life caused by advertising | 50.00
The Complete Review has a good account of this book (Grade: A) on their Johnson page, but here’s another passage, highlighting the casualness (at least in this case) of Johnson’s “experimentation.” I also enjoyed the discussion between Christie and his mother regarding what the reader might want to know about her.
An attempt should be made to characterize Christie’s appearance. I do so with diffidence, in the knowledge that such physical descriptions are rarely of value in a novel. It is one of the limitations; and there are so many others. Many readers, I should not be surprised to learn if appropriate evidence were capable of being researched, do not read such descriptions at all, but skip to the next dialogue or more readily assimilable section. Again I have often read and heard said, many readers apparently prefer to imagine the characters for themselves. That is what draws them to the novel, that it stimulates their imagination! Imagining my characters indeed! Investing them with characteristics quite unknown to me, or even at variance with such descriptions as I have given! Making Christie fair where I might have him dark, for an instance, a girl when I have shown he is a man? What writer can compete with a reader’s imagination!Christie is therefore of average shape, height, weight, build, and colour. Make him what you will: probably in the image of yourself. You are allowed complete freedom in the matter of warts and moles, particularly; as long as he has at least one of either.