Each of the residents has allotted 21 pages; the events happen at exactly the same point in each narrative so that comparisons can be made. The House Mother has her say last of all and has an extra page. Johnson himself described what he wanted to do with the novel; What I wanted to do was to take an evening in an old peoples home, and see a single set of events through the eyes of not less than eight old people. At the end, there would be the viewpoint of the House Mother, an apparently "normal" person, and the events themselves would then be seen to be so bizarre that everything that had come before would seem "normal" by comparison. This misses the point; Johnson does try to make the reader laugh with his descriptions of some of the events.
B.S. Johnson's fifth experimental novel is a chorus of moribund voices, each one distinctly rendered on the page in the form of typographically confused (the characters, not the author) meters.
This is a appropriate book to read especially if you are already old and you feel you can die anytime. Each of the nine characters were allotted by Johnson 21 pages of the book for what he or she is thinking in that one afternoon inside one of the rooms in that house. Johnson tried to double guess what goes on in the mind of each of the 10 characters while they are playing a game similar to a musical chair or "trip to Jerusalem." Then in the end, what the reader gets is a splice in a life of 9 or 10 people told in several points of view. The best part of the book for me is this thought that goes on in the mind of Sarah Lamson, 74-y/o, the first narrator, the youngest and the healthiest among the 9 old patients: "I wish I'd been kind to old people then, now I know how it is. Reading this book made me remember my 95-y/o father-in-law. Here is his picture together with my 84-y/o mother-in-law: Taken by me last year, 2013, inside their house in Quezon City.
________ Definitely a spoiler :: but what happens at the end, well, Zappa's ditty Stinkfoot pops into mind :: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj0v8... You decide :: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSUHG...
And there is the House Mother who knows all her residents and who is like God to them And there is the Author who is God to them all The joys of life continue strong Throughout old age, however long: If only we can cheerful stay And brightly welcome every day.
I even read it while sitting on a promotional rocking chair for senior citizens (not that I am already one!) provided for by the mall right outside the cinema. It is run by a 42-year-old, unnamed House Mother who narrates last and consumes 22 pages (the others only have 21 pages each) for her internal/external monologues where she exposes with glee her vileness and cruelty. A sobering thought is that as the years pass by everyone of us comes closer to being one of these characters, each introduced boldly with the most important appendages attached to persons within that age bracket. Like the best of them: Sarah Lamson age - 74 marital status - widow sight - 60% hearing - 75% touch - 70% taste - 85% smell - 50% movement - 85% CQ count - 10 pathology - contractures; incipient hallux valgus; osteo-arthritis; suspected late paraphrenia; among others. and the worst of these eight: Rosetta Stanton age - 94 marital status - not known sight - 5% hearing - 10%? touch - 5% taste - 15% smell - 20% movement - 5% CQ count - 0 pathology - everything everyone else has; plus incipient bronchial pneumonia; atherosclerotic dementia; probably ament; hemiplegia (with negative Babinski response); to name only a very few.
Each page is like a musical score, in that the characters thoughts mark out the time, sometimes blank spaces will show periods of thoughtlessness or sleep. Each chapter covers the same period of time, so that you can cross reference one character with another to understand better the interactions going on. I liked that part, because I still have Woolf for Woolf, but this gives me a different approach to that stream of consciousness that may be less poetic but more interesting in other ways. The voices and backstories of all the characters were fun to read too, although part of me has the same problem with it as I do with most stream of consciousness writing, which is that people don't actually think this way. Did we really need to be reminded that we were reading a book at the very end? How did this meta- quality tie in to the actual themes of the book instead of sticking out like a sore thumb? I understand using meta- devices if that meta- ness has something to do with your book, like in Textermination, which I read recently. It's like BS Johnson wrote a pretty good 4 star experimental novel, with the potential of nudging it up to a 5 star book if the last chapter was stellar, but then he decided to make a mockery of the whole thing, shoot himself in the foot, and laugh at the reader for having enjoyed what he read.
The story here is about an old people's home in the U.K. and you hear the participants voices in separate chapters, but, one presumes at the same time.
Each chapter is told in a different voice and this is definitely the books strength, each character feels distinct and genuine. The representation of the peoples varying states of dementia is tragic and I genuinely felt very hurt and angry at the treatment the characters were getting.
Johnson (Bryan Stanley Johnson) was an English experimental novelist, poet, literary critic and film-maker. After he graduated with a 2:2, Johnson wrote a series of increasingly experimental and often acutely personal novels.