Now that New Directions’s edition of The Unfortunates is starting to get reviews, I wonder: Is everyone reading the same book?
The idea behind the book is that it’s a collection of unbound signatures that you pick from randomly and read in whatever order chance dictates (only the first and last ones are designated, and those you’re supposed to read as assigned).
So I wonder, is everyone here working with the same text?
I’ve so far seen two reviews of this book. Benjamin Lytal’s review has its virtues, but noticeably lacking is a consideration of what it means to review a book that your readers will likely never read, even if they read it.
John Lingan in Splice Today comment much more thoroughly on the book’s structure. And, although he does consider the question at hand, he seems to dismiss it rather quickly:
Regardless of what order the reader assembles these chapters in, however, the dramatic thrust of The Unfortunates isn’t likely to change; the writing is all first person, comma-heavy stream of consciousness. Each chapter typically corresponds to a specific recollection, such as the friends’ first meeting or the narrator’s late visit to the hospital, and while they contain beautiful passages individually, the novel’s power comes from their accumulation. Together, in whatever order, they form a dual portrait of the narrator’s attempt to write well about a dull football match, and the difficulty imposed on that goal by the haunting memories that accompany the match’s hosting city. . . .
Try reading it simultaneously with a friend, as would no doubt heighten
the touching—and entirely unromanticized—reflections on friendship that
Johnson offers. You’d be reading a physically different book as you
technically read the same one, just as the narrator reflects that,
“everything we know about someone is perhaps not the same, even
radically different from what others, another, may seem or understand
about them, him.”
Perhaps this is true–that whatever order you read it in the experience is more or less equal. But then if this is true, I wonder if Jonson didn’t fail at what he attempted. Because the book does seem to be about encountering the same person differently. Or maybe it’s really about how people are more or less the same, even when encountered differently.
I guess I should read the book for myself.