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The late British writer Johnson's biting, bleakly funny 1964 novel (his third to be reissued recently by New Directions) about an architect forced to teach school in London's tougher neighborhoods. The story is made up of powerful, painful fragments of the life of one Albert Angelo, 28, a man who dreams of becoming an architect but is forced by circumstance to live in a rundown rooming house and substitute-teach at schools where the children are dolts and thugs. The sloppy, overweight Albert is a brilliant, cynical teacher who hates what he's doing and spends most of his time dreaming of building design, and of an old college love, Jenny, with whom he'd broken up years before. The novel is almost at an impasse of despair when Johnson himself breaks into the narrative in a powerful final section called ""Disintegration."" ""Fuck all this lying,"" he says, and proceeds to tell the reader that the book is really about him, a writer, not an architect, and that Jenny's name is really Muriel (""but you can't call a girl in a book Muriel, now can you""), and that he really drove a Morris Minor, not a Fiat, etc. This sort of thing can be somewhat precious, but with Johnson it manages to come across as the passionate plea of an artist trying to get as close to the marrow of life as possible, ""to present a paradigm of truth to reality as I see it."" A disturbing novel, and more accessible than later work like Christie Mallory's Own Double-Entry and HouseMother Normal (p. 232).

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1987
ISBN: 0811210030
Publisher: New Directions