3.6 (1,753 ratings by Goodreads)
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From the award-winning author of 'Clear 'comes an epic novel of startling originality. If History is just a sick joke which keeps on repeating itself, then who exactly might be telling it, and why? Could it be John Scogin, Edward IV's infamous court jester, whose favourite pastime was to burn people alive -- for a laugh? Or could it be Andrew Boarde, Henry VIII's physician, who kindly wrote John Scogin's biography? Or could it be a tiny Kurd called Gaffar whose days are blighted by an unspeakable terror of -- uh -- salad? Or a beautiful, bulimic harpy with ridiculously weak bones? Or a man who guards Beckley Woods with a Samurai sword and a pregnant terrier? 'Darkmans' is a very modern book, set in Ashford (a ridiculously modern town), about two very old-fashioned subjects: love and jealousy. It's also a book about invasion, obsession, displacement and possession, about comedy, art, prescription drugs and chiropody. And the main character? The past, which creeps up on the present and whispers something quite dark -- quite unspeakable -- into its ear. 'Darkmans' is the third of Nicola Barker's visionary narratives of the Thames Gateway. Following on from 'Wide Open' (winner Dublin IMPAC award 2000) and 'Behindlings' it confirms Nicola Barker as one of Britain's most original and exciting literary talents.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 848 pages
  • 159 x 240mm | 1,373g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 0007193629
  • 9780007193622
  • 516,750

Review Text

The hip, the square and the crazy trip over their pasts and each other in this boisterous latest from Barker (Clear, 2005, etc.), a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. The primary focus of the novel, set in Ashford, England, near the Channel Tunnel, is on two families. There is a father, Beede, and his son, Kane. Kane is a cool prescription-drug dealer. Beede is stuffy, civic-minded and pedantic; he supervises a hospital laundry. They tolerate each other warily; their one great crisis occurred when Kane's mother (Beede's divorced wife) died painfully after a botched suicide attempt. The other family consists of Isidore (or Dory), his wife, Elen, and their five-year-old son, Fleet. Dory, who pretends to be German, is a mess, narcoleptic and paranoid. He suffers dangerous "episodes" of which he has no memory. At times he is possessed by a medieval jester called John, who once burned down a barn with people inside. Little Fleet is weird too (he knows about John). The sane one is Elen, who radiates calm and commonsense. She's a podiatrist who has treated Beede and Kane and is the link between the families. There is a third family, the Broads, a collection of lowlifes. Foremost among them is punk, anorexic Kelly; she has a big mouth but a good heart. The novel generates heat but no light. The hijinks (searching in a haunted forest for Dory, for example) are enhanced by playful typography and counterpointed by erudite riffs on, among other things, similarities between the medieval and modern worlds. The past weighs heavily, even on the Broads. The questions pile up but go unanswered; projected climaxes (a rooftop encounter between Dory and John) fizzle out. As in her previous work, Barker is still seductive, idiosyncratic and infuriating. "Everything is arbitrary" says a character who is the designated truth-teller. That's quite a cop-out. If you go with the flow and reconcile yourself to the lack of plot, you'll find plenty to enjoy. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

Praise for Nicola Barker: 'Dazzling!She celebrates the complexity of human experience.' The Times 'Insanely inventive. Her vision of a marginal Britain populated by drifters and desperados is fired by a comic energy that dances on the edge of self-combustion.' Guardian 'Barker's eccentrics are the stuff of pure farce. And they allow her to reinvent, joyously, the cogs, gears and mechanics of the genre. She knows, as Wodehouse also knew, how to rev up the language, do baroque variations on a phrase, even break into a kind of poetry.' New York Timesshow more

About Nicola Barker

Nicola Barker lives and works in east London. She was the winner of the David Higham Prize for Fiction and joint winner of the Macmillan Silver Pen Award for 'Love Your Enemies', her first collection of stories. Her second story collection, 'Heading Inland', received the John Llewellyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday Prize. Her novel 'Wide Open' won the IMPAC Prize in 2000, and 'Clear' was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004. She is one of Granta's 'Best Young British Novelists'of the decade.show more

Rating details

1,753 ratings
3.6 out of 5 stars
5 24% (423)
4 36% (628)
3 22% (392)
2 12% (209)
1 6% (101)
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