Listened to the Audible edition of this book, narrated excellently by Kris Dyer.
BS Johnson was a very popular novelist in the 1960s and 70s, despite being quite avant-garde and very experimental. One of his novels came in a box with loose chapters, of which only the first and last were marked. Another had holes in the pages so the reader could see ahead to future events. He was the king of metafiction, and continues that here.
I first came across this book when a musician I adore, the sardonic Luke Haines, did his own soundtrack, which was to the movie adaptation of this novel (as he said “to be found in bargain bins across the land”). I don’t remember the movie, which I’ve seen, but the soundtrack is worth checking out.
Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry is the story of young Christie who goes to work for a bank, and later a factory, as an accountant, and fascinated and inspired by double-entry bookkeeping – where every debit must have its own corresponding, exacting credit, and vice versa. And this great idea, he takes from applying to finance and applies to his life. So every time his boss annoys him, or belittles him, he seeks revenge. However, given the job and Christie – who slowly, almost without noticing, spirals out of control – is never in credit and has to exact ever increasing acts of disruption and revenge.
This is also a book that knows it’s a book. The characters occasionally refer to being in a book and the narrator is the author himself. This, you would think, would distract from the book, but if anything it adds to it. And I love some metafiction messing about. And the whole book is a commentary and push-back against the form of the novel, which Johnson is trying to progress and views as stale, as evinced by the narrator’s description of Malry:
“What writer can compete with the reader’s imagination!
Christie is therefore an 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; as long as he has at least one of either.”
The narrator, Johnson, even becomes a character in the novel towards the end. Johnson is taking the novel apart and trying to square it against its internal components, much like Malry does with his double ledger accounts. Recommended.
You can reserve a print copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.