From Publishers Weekly
There isn't much plot to Barker's Man Booker-shortlisted novel (after Clear and Behindlings), but a cast of eccentric characters, a torrent of inventive prose and an irresistible synthesis of wickedly humorous and unsettlingly supernatural elements more than compensate for the loose itinerary. The novel is set in a contemporaneous British district bisected by the arrival of the Channel Tunnel's international passenger station, a sore point for one of the central characters, cranky 61-year-old Daniel Beede, distraught at the loss of local landmarks. Beede is estranged from his prescription drug-dealing son Kane, though they share a flat, where Gaffar, a muscular Kurdish refugee with a rabid fear of salad greens, takes up residence. Beede is friends with Elen, a podiatrist, and with Isidore, Elen's paranoid and narcoleptic husband; their young son Fleet is a spooky prodigy who, in one of this intricate tale's several instances of mind-bending nuttiness, may actually be Isidore's ancestor from nine generations ago. This improbable premise is supported by the boy's propensity for quoting bits of the biography of King Edward IV's court jester, one John Scogin, the dark man who haunts the book. Despite the story's plotless sprawl, any reader open to the appeal of an ambitious author's kaleidoscopic imagination will relish this bravura accomplishment.
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'When a new novel by Nicola Barker arrives, there is a host of reasons to break into a smile. Chief among them is that she is one of the most exhilarating, audacious and, for want of a better word, ballsy writers of her generation. And, in a publishing terrain that often inhibits ambition and promotes homogeneity, there is nobody writing quite like her.' Alex Clark, Observer 'Inventive, witty and well staged.' Hugo Barnacle, Sunday Times 'There is a constant sense she might launch us into the minds of one of her psychotics and leave us there, and this gives her books a fearsome energy.' Independent 'Rich, sensual, almost synaesthetic powers of description and association.' Times Literary Supplement 'Each of her works brims with electricity, energy and invention, with rude humour, originality and contrariness. Who else but Barker would produce an 838-page epic with little describable plot, taking place over just a few days and set in -- wait for it -- Ashford? For that's what "Darkmans" is, and it is phenomenally good. Barker is a great, restless novelist, and "Darkmans" is a great restless novel. At the end of 838 blinding, High-octane pages, I was bereft that there weren't 838 more.' Patrick Ness, Guardian 'An idiosyncratic, witty and utterly original vision of Albion.' Independent 'Her books are experimental in style, endlessly inventive. Finely plotted, multi-stranded narratives, packed with big ideas.' Susan Mansfield 'Nicola Barker's new novel, "Darkmans", is an ambitious, daring, delightful and compelling work. If any young British writer -- male or female -- is dreaming big nightmares and taking jaw-dropping risks, it's Barker! ["Darkmans"] is twisted and braided with an intricacy so delicate you barely notice the links until the whole web engulfs you!Barker has specialised in eccentric characters in overlooked locations, but "Darkmans" adds an epic intensity to her oeuvre. Although it is more than 800 pages long, it is fearfully gripping: I stayed up in the wee small hours to read it -- perhaps unsurprisingly, since its slow-release, cumulative horrors make any sleep uneasy. Perhaps only David Lynch could do justice to a celluloid version of its surreal (and genuinely funny) humour, its gathering darkness and its beautiful, mystifying strangeness.' Scotland on Sunday 'This book describes a world in which people, families, communities and old value systems have gone adrift. Paradoxically, while signifying loss, discontinuity, destruction, Barker's narrative also conveys a notion of people held together: this flowing, discursive storytelling washes along like the Thames itself, embracing everything. Surreal and satirical vision of modern life.' Michele Roberts, FT Magazine 'Nicola Barker's writing is hugely attractive, because it conjures images and ideas from a tremendous wealth of inspiration. It is the product of a powerful, sprawling imagination. It could easily become a cult book, with groups of readers able to discuss the growing layers of significance as new ideas link up to form a world view. It deserves to be, as there are whole passages where every other word awakes some theme planted earlier in the novel.' Daily Telegraph
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