Photo by *TONI.R used under a Creative Commons license.
Nicola Barker, Darkmans (Harper Perennial, 2007).
Daniel Beede, on the high side of 60, is estranged from his son, Kane, though they live together in a flat in Ashford, England, near the northern terminus of the Chunnel. A welter of other characters are linked to them in various ways: Gaffar, a Kurdish refugee; Elen, a podiatrist; Isidore, Elen’s troubled husband; Kelly, who has more mouth than smarts; and many others. Ashford has the troubles of a modern town — traffic, development — but the book is haunted by a centuries-old jester. Trying to sum up the plot is a fool’s errand, but do not be deterred by the book’s length — Barker’s prose beguiles and sweeps along, and the pages fly by.
Here is a short bio of Barker. Patrick Ness (The Guardian) says Barker’s linguistic energy never lets up. Sylvian Brownrigg (The New York Times) calls it a broad, funny, deeply strange book. Hugo Barnacle (London Times) says the bulk of the book is inventive, witty and well staged. Matt Thorne (The Independent) says it’s all about chatter. Laura Miller (Salon) calls it fat and sassy, vulgar and brainy. Nick Owchar (LA Times) thinks it’s for readers who enjoy nimble wordplay. Alan DeNiro calls it full of paradoxes. dovegreyreader says it checks in as the ultimate latter-day social novel. Kerry Clare says it will leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by the most marvelous train. Suzanne Kleid (KQED) says it’s the first 838-page novel that has ever seemed too short. Kirsty thinks it’s an eminently readable doorstop. Stewart McAbney couldn’t break the shell to engage with what was going on. Curt Gardner is glad he discovered it. Matt Todd calls it a surprisingly tight and restrained affair. Gwen Dawson gave it three stars out of five. Jo Case says it may be the best book she’s ever read. Justin Bauer (Philadelphia City Paper) says Barker sets a full table. Tom Payne (Telegraph) thinks it could easily become a cult book. Stephen Lang calls it a modern-day ghost story about the past. Robyn Ettely says it sure moved along. Sea says some parts are like a bad dream the reader has the privilege of being in but not suffering. David found it bleak yet funny. John Self thinks Barker gets away with quirkiness. Peter Konieczy says Barker’s sort of history is clogged with all sorts of debris that floats up at unexpected moments. Barry is tempted to say it’s a book about a man who wants to have repairs done to his house. Victoria calls it the epitome of creative unruliness. Jessica Coleman says your book group shouldn’t read it. Kimberley says it’s a story about history. Gale says it leaves a reader feeling unsettled. asd would marry Barker if she weren’t straight. Vikram Johri says Barker’s sleight-of-hand works on several levels. kirsty was left feeling that she wasn’t clever enough. Carl Kessler found it unreadable, and quotes a sentence. Brandon Keim says Barker’s prose layers banality on top of virtuosity on vernacular on OCD, emulsifies it with compassion, bakes it in a casserole dish of curiosity. Tyler Cowen thought it underrated. Alex Clark interviewed Barker for the Guardian. Marshal Zeringue has another interview. Here is Mary McCallum on Barker’s desk.