Clear: A Transparent Novel Paperback – Jun 14 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
With her fresh, confident sophomore novel (after Behindlings), Barker offers a meditation on illusionist David Blaine's feat of self-starvation—44 days spent suspended in a clear box above the Thames River. Analytical narrator Adie, a prickly, literate young man who works in an office overlooking the Blaine spectacle, carefully dissects the psychology of both Blaine and the hordes of onlookers who feed him attention as he slowly starves. Meanwhile, Adie's own drama unfolds, set off by a strange encounter with Aphra, a perplexing girl with a freakish sense of smell and a fetish for vintage shoes who spends her nights on the riverbank watching Blaine sleep. As Adie's involvement with Aphra grows more complicated, his initially cynical interest in Blaine becomes more obsessive. "Perhaps... this loopy illusionist has tapped into something.... A fury. A disillusionment," Adie muses, ruminating on the vileness and beauty that Blaine's presence has brought out among Brits. Despite Adie's determined disdain for the man, the unwelcome "Hunger Artist" leads him to wonder if "Some things are beyond the reach of art. Some words are meaningful beyond understanding." Offbeat and authentic, intellectual and accessible, Barker's is an original voice. (June)
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“Barker’s weird imagination works wonders...Exceptional.” (Elle)
“The brilliance of Barker’s style is beyond question.” (Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator (A Book of the Year))
“The diversity of Barker’s imagination is stunning; her language, witty and exact.” (Daily Telegraph (London))
“An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-ner perfect piece of work [by an] infuratingly talented British author.” (Kirkus Reviews on Behindlings)
“Nicola Barker has a rare writing talent.” (Time Out (London))
“Barker’s earthy, inventive, hilarious, and wickedly satirical novel is enormously entertaining.” (Booklist)
“Her vision is unique, funny, dark, sarcastic and clever.” (Alain de Botton)
“Barker’s narrative draws us in with the disturbing, surreal touch of a latter-day Lewis Carroll.” (Sunday Times (London))
“Dazzling...She celebrates the complexity of human experience.” (London Times)
“The plot doesn’t just twist, it leaps and back-flips and does triple somersaults...” (New York Times Book Review)
Inside This Book(Learn More)
I couldn't even begin to tell you why, exactly, but my head was suddenly buzzing with the opening few lines of Jack Schaefer's Shane (his 'Classic Novel of the American West'. Remember?). Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As a backdrop to what is basically a first person narrative stream of consciousness, we have David Blaine's stunt where he confined himself in a suspended glass tank in London, without eating anything, drinking only water, for 44 days, while London crowds looked on in fascination and disgust. Blaine, of course, is one of those new breeds of extreme magicians/performance artists, who subject themselved to unimaginable hardships, or is it all just some illusion?
In any event, Nicola Barker combines the styles of Whit Stillman (who wrote the screenplays for "Metropolitan," "Barcelona," and "Last Days of Disco"), with Jack Kerouac's classic "On the Road." What you basically have is a bunch of twenty or thirty something men and women who are far too clever, can refer to the most obscure subjects at the drop of a hat, and who listen to the coolest music imaginable. They all have quirky and sometimes androgenous names (e.g. main character and narrator Adair, his larger than life roomate Solomon, Solomon's girlfriend Jalisa, Adair's former male co-worker Hilary, and Adair's two female interests Aphra and Bly). Everyone has something quite deep to say about David Blaine, as well as other unrelated subjects, which get analyzed on an impossibly intellectual level, including (perhaps most interestingly) the western "Shane" (in its novel form). Are otherwise average middle class people who live in England so much more clever than their American counter-parts?
Nicola Barker writes in an interesting and unique voice, which didn't quite do it for me in "Clear." However, if the above sounds interesting to you, you will almost certainly enjoy the book.
Okay, you get the idea and my brain is starting to hurt, so just imagine how painful it would be to read something like that for 300+ pages. Thankfully, I stopped reading at page 55, flipped through the rest of the book and saw that every damn page has loads of parenthesis and italicized words, most of which aren't even necessary. Not only was the style annoying, there's not much plot here, or even interesting clever things being said as promised by all the rave reviews. Even if there was an excellent story here, I would probably not finish it because the style is so freaking distracting. And to think I was planning on reading the author's other novel, Darkmans, first. That one is over 800 pages of the same style of writing!
Anyway, I recommend interested readers read the sample provided by Amazon and see if they would like to read a whole book written like that. I also recommend going to Amazon UK for more reviews.
This was my first and last novel by this author.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: if that's your kind of book, you'll probably love this. Most of my classmates in the grad class did.
If that's not your kind of book, you won't like it. *I* didn't.
The book's main theme is that even when we think we are seeing, our perceptions of appearances are deceiving us.
What can be more transparent than an illusionist, David Blaine, who sits suspended in a Perspex box above the Thames while he fasts for 44 days? That central image becomes the fulcrum for this insightful, witty novel about modern conceits.
You soon get a hint that the book is in part about writing when the narrator, Adair Graham MacKenny, opens the narration with ribald praise for the language in Jack Schaefer's Shane. Later, Blaine's very illusion is discussed in terms of a Kafka story. Unlike snobbish novelists, Ms. Barker shares everything you need to know to share her point.
As the story develops, you find yourself in the middle of an enigma wrapped in several mysteries, one Aphra by name, who sits every night watching Blaine in the wee hours while others sleep, who keeps dozens of containers of gourmet food which alternative with regurgitated remnants of such food, and wears outrageous shoes. Aphra's shoe fetish nicely matches Adair's foot fetish, and Adair finds himself in enraptured pursuit. As the mysteries about Aphra are gradually resolved, you begin to appreciate Ms. Barker's point about not knowing what we are seeing. In one powerful passage on page 311, she reveals all in describing Blaine's magic:
"He's like a mirror in which people can see the very best and the very worst of themselves."
Clear goes on to make the point that we all use other people in the same way. It's clear!