Carole Angier

In Defense of Literary Biography

IN HIS RECENT life of B S Johnson (reviewed in June’s LR) Jonathan Coe tells a sad tale. In the 1960s and 1970s Johnson wrote seven avant-garde novels, now mainly remembered for their experimental antics: one was Published in sections in a box, another had a hole cut through several pages. In fact, Coe argues, Johnson was a wonderful storyteller. But his theories – his distrust of fiction and constant deconstruction of the form – slowly strangled both his novels and him. Soon after finishing the last one – ‘in many ways the work of a writer at the end of his artistic tether’, Coe says – Johnson committed suicide.

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