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B. S. Johnson: Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry

This is a wicked book and I mean that in a thoroughly positive sense. Christie Malry starts his career as a bank clerk because he wants to be near the money. He soon realises that this isn’t going to work and decides to become an accountant, taking up a position as an invoice clerk at Tapper’s, makers of sweets and cakes. Christie lives with his mother but, as soon as she is not needed for novelistic purposes, she agrees to write herself out of the novel. He takes up with a sexually eager young woman – think vacuum cleaners and shaving foam – known only as the Shrike. He settles down to work at Tapper’s but is soon disgruntled.

Christie feels, as many of us must do, that life is not entirely fair to him. As an accountant he keeps a double entry accounting record of where he has been slighted and plans to obtain appropriate credit for these debits. (As this is B S Johnson, we get a typewritten image of Christie’s accounts.) He starts off small, for example by scratching the wall of a building that is in his way, stealing stationery from his employer and placing phony orders. He gravitates to crank phone calls of the bomb in a building type and then to out and out acts of sabotage (we would now call it terrorism), first killing some workmen with a bomb aimed at the tax office and then some fifteen thousand people by putting cyanide in a reservoir. He feels little remorse for his actions and Johnson treats it all lightheartedly.

But, as this is B S Johnson, we are going to have some postmodern interventions. Christie’s mother is not the only one who realises she is in a novel. Several of the other characters do and comment on it. Johnson, as author, of course, intervenes and has a chat with Christie and eventually intervenes (as he must) to bring about a conclusion. In short, this is typical Johnson, very funny and both serious and lighthearted.

Publishing history

First published 1973 by Collins