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House Mother Normal Paperback – Jun 1 1986


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; New edition edition (June 1 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811209814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811209816
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,076,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

BS Johnson's fifth novel, subtitled "A Geriatric Comedy", is inventive, unique and wonderfully humane. Like the rest of his hugely important and criminally overlooked work this is as funny and as profound a book as any you are ever likely to read. Consisting of eight 21-page monologues by each of the named inhabitants of an old people's home, and a final piece by the House Mother herself, Johnson, without any hint of sentimentality, draws out an evening scene in which each of the NERs (no effective relatives) suffers at the hands of the House Mother. Before the start of each monologue a CQ score is given (marking a regularly used test for senile dementia: out of 10 simple questions, such as where are you now? what day is this? the 10 answers represent compos mentis on a sliding scale to infirmity). This enables Johnson, through his usual playful use of language and typography, to represent in his writing the almost incommunicable. The old people suffer, some can barely speak, others are dominated, obsessed with particular memories that mark important failures or accomplishments, moments which resonate now daily life is so dull.

Johnson is in the company of Beckett here, able to use language itself to show up what language's limitations do to our ability to communicate, and how they form/inform his writing about that inability. Focusing on old age, its degradations and disintegrations, House Mother Normal manages to be both profound and touching. For an avant garde novel to accomplish this and yet be hugely readable, entertaining and very funny is testament to the huge skills of one of the finest writers England has recently produced. --Mark Thwaite

From Library Journal

Johnson's fifth novel, originally published in Britain in 1971, takes place during Social Evening at a home for the aged. The night's bizarre activities (among them a game of Pass the Parcel in which the "prize" is a package of dog droppings) are seen through the eyes of first one resident then another, until we come to despotic House Mother herself. The picture that emerges is of a shabby band of survivors, some of them scarcely conscious, lorded over by a psychopath: "I disgust them in order that they may not be disgusted with themselves." An original if dispiriting performance, part experiment, part dirty joke, for collections of modernist fiction. Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Format: Paperback
This book examines the events of one evening in an old people's home. It consists of nine first person narratives, the first eight belonging to the inmates and the ninth, and last, being that of the nurse or "House Mother". The innovative technique used by Johnson is to make each line in each section correspond to the same moment in time. Each section is prefaced with a list of the various infirmities and deficiencies suffered by that person (including a CQ count, used to assess senile dementia, which is the number of correct questions answered out of 10 such as who is the prime minister, what day is it etc), giving us an idea of how that individual's perceptions of events might be affected. Another typographical device used is that interior monologue is shown in roman type, speech in italics and absence of thought or speech by white space.
The technical device used may sound contrived, but it works marvellously to create a vivid three-dimensional effect. Johnson gives us an insight into the geriatric mind with humour, compassion and empathy. The accounts are by turns, both funny and tragic. A couple of the inmates who are at the extremes of senility are portrayed with great feeling and the use of white space and other typographical techniques augments the writing wonderfully in these sections. The final section, that of the House Mother's, is the only disappointment of the book. Her ostensible "normality" forcing us to reassess the apparent "abnormality" of the inmates' perceptions. However, her revelations seem insignificant compared to the human suffering we have already experienced.
Overall, this is one of those rare examples of a perfect fusion of form and content, and another wonderful piece of work from a great, but neglected writer.
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By A Customer on Feb. 9 1999
Format: Paperback
House Mother Normal tells the story of a night in an old people's home as told by eight of its residents - all with varying degrees of senility - and their perverted carer, the "House Mother" of the title. Each of the nine narratives is synchronised in time and within the text, so that a multi-layered panorama of the evening's events slowly emerges. Johnson was a working-class Londoner who was a disciple of Joyce and Beckett. His novels display a range of experimental devices and tricks and he was in many ways ahead of his time. His books are hard to get hold of, but Picador are about to re-issue "The Unfortunates" his famous "book in a box" (27 loose leaf pamphlets to be read in any order)and Jonathan Coe is writing a biography. He is well worth reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A phenomenal technical achievement Dec 17 1999
By "jules_joseph" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book examines the events of one evening in an old people's home. It consists of nine first person narratives, the first eight belonging to the inmates and the ninth, and last, being that of the nurse or "House Mother". The innovative technique used by Johnson is to make each line in each section correspond to the same moment in time. Each section is prefaced with a list of the various infirmities and deficiencies suffered by that person (including a CQ count, used to assess senile dementia, which is the number of correct questions answered out of 10 such as who is the prime minister, what day is it etc), giving us an idea of how that individual's perceptions of events might be affected. Another typographical device used is that interior monologue is shown in roman type, speech in italics and absence of thought or speech by white space.
The technical device used may sound contrived, but it works marvellously to create a vivid three-dimensional effect. Johnson gives us an insight into the geriatric mind with humour, compassion and empathy. The accounts are by turns, both funny and tragic. A couple of the inmates who are at the extremes of senility are portrayed with great feeling and the use of white space and other typographical techniques augments the writing wonderfully in these sections. The final section, that of the House Mother's, is the only disappointment of the book. Her ostensible "normality" forcing us to reassess the apparent "abnormality" of the inmates' perceptions. However, her revelations seem insignificant compared to the human suffering we have already experienced.
Overall, this is one of those rare examples of a perfect fusion of form and content, and another wonderful piece of work from a great, but neglected writer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
a black comedy set in an old people's home Feb. 9 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
House Mother Normal tells the story of a night in an old people's home as told by eight of its residents - all with varying degrees of senility - and their perverted carer, the "House Mother" of the title. Each of the nine narratives is synchronised in time and within the text, so that a multi-layered panorama of the evening's events slowly emerges. Johnson was a working-class Londoner who was a disciple of Joyce and Beckett. His novels display a range of experimental devices and tricks and he was in many ways ahead of his time. His books are hard to get hold of, but Picador are about to re-issue "The Unfortunates" his famous "book in a box" (27 loose leaf pamphlets to be read in any order)and Jonathan Coe is writing a biography. He is well worth reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
strange read June 7 2007
By T. Lai - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This was such a strange novel. I like the way Johnson writes out the dialogue or musings of the individuals on one side of the page while writing the atmospheric conversations on the other. I say it was strange because of the ending....but I won't spoil it for you.
Impressive technically, but interferes with themes Oct. 22 2008
By Lumba - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Johnson's experimental novel focuses on an evening in a geriatric home, where a house mother tries to amuse eight patients of varying mental and physical capabilities. The novel is comprised of nine sections, one for each character. Each section has twenty-one pages - except for the last section, the House Mother's section, which has twenty-two. Each section includes a short case sheet before the narrative, ostensibly as an introduction to the mental and physical state of each character. They seem to function as a rationale for the narratives following them. The narratives themselves are written in stream-of-consciousness style, following the characters' thoughts and spoken words as they occur.

You'll notice as you read that the events are static throughout each narrative: what happens on page seven of one narrative occurs on every page seven. Your understanding of the evening's events evolves slowly, one piece at a time, as you read each section. Also, the narratives start with the most lucid and able character (Sarah Lamson) and work their way through increasing levels of dysfunctionality and abnormality, culminating in the House Mother's narrative.

It is a very involved way of reading, of course, and one cannot help but feel sympathy for the characters as they see the world through each individual set of eyes, minds, and impairments. The House Mother's narrative is, again, an exception. Delving into her mind is absolutely repulsive. This technique would work, except for page twenty-two: Johnson speaks through the House Mother, reminding us that she is a construct and that, as the author, he has full control over the novel. It's an interesting move, but at the same time, it invalidates the universe of the novel by removing our suspension of disbelief. For many readers, this move renders the entire novel meaningless.

Also, the stream-of-consciousness style detracts from character development. The main concern of the narratives was memories of the past and reactions to the present, so there is little room for meaningful characterization. I still developed sympathy for the characters, but it felt contrived, especially since we as readers are forced, by the last page, to become aware of the fact that Johnson is using techniques.

With techniques aside, the contrast between the cold, scientific distance of the case sheets and the human warmth behind the first eight narratives, and the contrast between the patients' sympathetic narratives and the house mother's disturbing narrative, reveal a criticism of how ineffectively society deals with deterioration of the body and soul. During Victorianism, people with mental illnesses and venereal diseases were sent to asylums, where they were sequestered from the general population that had no understanding of their conditions. Now that science has evolved and has a complex vocabulary for nearly every condition known to man, society has adopted those terms. However, these technical terms are more comforting than enlightening: we have some control over ourselves, their existence assures us, we have found some semblance of order in the vast universe. And yet, we are still insulated from the horrible reality of illness because we give power to these meaningless words (many of which, in the case of the novel, are high-flown technical terms for well-known conditions). This labeling and empirical "knowledge" neglects that there is humanity behind these conditions, and that there are very real people suffering in ways that the healthy cannot understand. Scientific language has become the modern-day insane asylum. Johnson illustrates that point well, even though the novel suffers from a couple poorly devised techniques.
Genre pushing look at old age July 12 2014
By PuroShaggy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
B.S. Johnson has made a name for himself by tweaking the conventions of novel writing without abandoning the basics of what makes a novel a novel. "House Mother Normal" finds Johnson pushing these conventions more so than ever, yet still, somehow, the end result is an engaging, funny, and disturbing piece of literature.
Set inside an old folks' home during a single afternoon, "House Mother Normal" reveals the thoughts of eight residents as they proceed through a variety of activities. Each subsequent internal monologue provides more information about what is actually happening, with the internal monologue of the House Mother concluding the book and providing a more objective and much more unsettling description of the events. The residents' monologues run the gambit from relatively coherent reflections on aging to completely indecipherable ramblings, with the House Mother's own monologue appropriately falling somewhere in between.
It is a power to B.S. Johnson's skills that he is able to make these disparate snapshots of the elderly read like a cohesive piece of fiction. While it may seem gimmicky on the surface, "House Mother Normal"'s unique take on what a novel consists actually makes this piece of fiction work, with form meeting function perfectly.

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