I must admit I haven’t attempted a BS Johnson novel yet, but intend to take the plunge in the near future…can anyone recommend a gentle starting point?
However, I have been reading the 10 novel sequence ‘Alms for Oblivion’ by Simon Raven, written and published between 1959-1976. This is now out of print – and Raven largely forgotten – but I’ve managed to obtain battered mass market paperbacks published, for the most part, in the early 1980s. He must have had a large readership at that time.
Raven was very much a ‘work hard, play hard’ type of character. According to his obituary in the Guardian (2001),
"No matter how much he had eaten and drunk the night before – and his capacity for alcohol was prodigious – he would be at his desk at 9.30 the following morning. "
One of his university contemporaries described him as "[trailing] an odour of brimstone". He also reminded one of his university lecturers of Guy Burgess, member of the Cambridge spy ring: "They were both scamps who by their example liberated their more timid contemporaries".
The novels in this sequence are hugely entertaining: satirical and rumbustious, but with a genuinely clear-sighted understanding of humans strengths and, more often, failings. There is none of the patrician nostalgia for a vanished age of Powell, or the Catholic hypocrisy of Waugh (in fact, Catholic hypocrisy is one of Raven’s targets). They can be read as self-contained pieces, so if you are interested and want to ‘dip in’, then I’d recommend either ‘Fielding Gray’ or ‘The Sabre Squadron’.
Long overdue for a revival…perhaps if someone with a high literary profile were to act as a champion…?