A fictional football match report that was included in the box containing the first edition of 'The Unfortunates' by B S Johnson.
These two Epigrams were also included in the box in which The Unfortunates was first published:
I will tell you in three words what the book is – It is a history – A history of who ? what ? where? when? Don’t hurry yourself – It is a history-book, Sir (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man’s own mind.
I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful
The First Edition
First edition of BS Johnson's The Unfortunates, showing the box and the loose 'chapters' which Johnson intended his readers to shuffle and read in random order.
The Unfortunates and BS Johnson
The book is much loved. Why ? Perhaps because the novel is a compelling and extraordinary one, an intense journey into memory and loss; perhaps because it’s also funny and forceful about the consolations of life – friendship, love, food, football; perhaps because it’s a beautifully rendered account of the precise experience of a day in an English town – mooching, overhearing, remembering, watching and writing; and perhaps because Johnson’s uncompromising approach to the ‘truth’ - which led him to innovations like this shufflable form - is as accessible to a current generation of novelists as it seems to have been ‘difficult’ then.
Perhaps also some of this interest grew because Bryan Johnson, the author and, in a complex game, the unnamed narrator of the novel, died 4 years later, by his own hand, at the age of 40. At the time he was an experimenter in a literary landscape which really didn’t get the experiment. Now, and particularly since Jonathan Coe’s unravelling of Johnson’s complex life in his 2004 Samuel Johnson award winning biography, Like A Fiery Elephant, it’s that experimentation which has made him a figure of increasing renown and interest. In a literary landscape which includes the confessional style of a David Eggers, the obsessive detail of a Nicholson Baker, the psychogeography of an Iain Sinclair, the innovations of The Unfortunates seem less like a challenge and more like a method which might get near to Johnson’s ‘truth’.