House Mother Normal

House Mother Normal - B.S. Johnson In which Johnson has lots of fun with constraints and toilet humour... Apparently, the structure isn't new. It had been deployed at least four decades before in 'Tea with Mrs Goodman' by Philip Toynbee, according to Johnson's biographer, Jonathan Coe. Clearly, telling the same events from the perspective of different characters has been done before (Lawrence Durrell's 'Alexandria Quartet' springs to mind). As with 'Trawl', I suspect this novel would be the antithesis of a "good read" for many readers. It makes him/her work and in this, it's ambitious. Only slowly, through a series of refracted mirrors and diminished consciousnesses, does it become clear what is going on in this old people's home.

Johnson creates his characters with affection and compassion. The abuse of them by the care home's 'house mother' carries uncomfortable echoes of recent revelations about some of these institutions. It has been said that you can judge a society by the way it treats its old people, its cultural development by its libraries. On that score, there's much work to do, here in the UK. 'House Mother Normal' ought to be required reading in the case for bringing back council-run homes at the heart of their community.