Title: Trawl

Author: B.S. Johnson

Publish Date: 1966

Genre: Modernist Fiction

Page Length: Approximately 200 pages


Trawl, written by B.S. Johnson in 1966, is a modernist fiction novel divided into thirteen sections that offers a unique narrative style. Through its exploration of a middle-aged narrator’s experiences during a week-long fishing trawler voyage, the book delves into themes of existentialism, identity, and the human condition.

Plot Summary:

Section 1: In the first section, the unnamed narrator introduces himself to the readers and sets the stage for the upcoming narrative. He boards the trawler and acquaints himself with the crew.

Section 2: This chapter focuses on the narrator’s observations about the harsh working conditions on the trawler. He reflects upon how these conditions simultaneously challenge and unite the crew.

Section 3: The third section primarily revolves around the narrator’s thoughts on life and death. As the trawler’s nets are cast, he contemplates the similar nature of fishing and human existence.

Section 4: Here, the narrator reflects on his past relationships and ponders the meaning of love. He delves into the complexities of romantic involvement and the consequences it holds.

Section 5: Johnson presents the readers with a detailed account of the narrator’s experiences with seasickness. This section showcases his vulnerability and the physical toll the trawler voyage takes on him.

Section 6: In this chapter, the narrator reflects on the oppressive nature of time, highlighting its relentless march and its impact on human lives.

Section 7: The focus shifts to the narrator’s contemplation of authenticity and pretense. He examines the facades people often construct to conceal their true selves, questioning the need for such deception.

Section 8: Throughout this section, the narrator navigates his wavering sense of identity. He examines the influence of both personal and societal factors on shaping one’s true being.

Section 9: Here, the narrator grapples with the concept of freedom and the limitations imposed by societal norms. He muses upon the restrictions and responsibilities that accompany individual liberation.

Section 10: The tenth section centers on the narrator’s reflections on religion and faith. He contemplates the role of spirituality in people’s lives, questioning its significance and pondering the concept of divine presence.

Section 11: In this chapter, the narrator contemplates the idea of truth and its subjectivity. He questions whether objective truth exists or if it is constantly shaped by personal perspectives.

Section 12: The narrator reflects upon the transient nature of life, drawing parallels between the trawler’s voyages and the fleeting moments that constitute human existence.

Section 13: In the final section, the narrative comes full circle as the narrator disembarks from the trawler. He bids farewell to the crew, leaving readers with a sense of closure tinged with ambiguity.


The novel primarily revolves around the experiences, thoughts, and reflections of the unnamed narrator, providing an intimate portrayal of his inner world. Other characters, such as the crew members on the trawler, are mentioned, though they serve more as elements of the narrator’s observations rather than fully developed characters.


Trawl explores several existential themes, inviting readers to reflect upon the human condition. Key themes include:

1. Existentialism: The novel delves into the challenges, purpose, and authenticity of human existence.

2. Identity: The exploration of the narrator’s sense of self and the role societal constructs play in shaping one’s identity is a prominent theme throughout the book.

3. Time and Mortality: Trawl contemplates the passage of time, its relentless nature, and the impact it has on human lives. The fragility and mortality of human existence are also examined.

4. Truth and Subjectivity: The concept of truth is dissected, with the narrator questioning the existence of objective truth and exploring how personal perspectives shape one’s understanding.


Trawl’s unique narrative style and exploration of existential themes make it an important contribution to modernist fiction. Johnson’s experimental approach, combining stream of consciousness with personal observations, challenges traditional literary conventions and offers readers a thought-provoking experience. Trawl invites readers to contemplate the complexities of life, prompting introspection and encouraging a deeper understanding of the human condition.