Book info

Darkmans (2007)

Darkmans (2007)
Author
Rating
3.61 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0007193629 (ISBN13: 9780007193622)
languge
English
publisher
fourth estate (gb)
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Darkmans (2007)
Darkmans (2007)

About book: A strange book, which can be funny, moving, thought-provoking – as well as frustrating. But then it is set in Ashford, which is all of those things and less. The plot is hard to summarise, although as a reader you'll probably be more preoccupied with unpicking the Byzantine web of connections which links the cast. The nearest thing to a central character is Kane, a layabout and amiable drug-dealer; he has a strained relationship with his father Beede, who works at the local hospital. Both of them are infatuated with a chiropodist called Elen, whose half-German husband Dory suffers from schizophrenic episodes during which he appears to be possessed by the spirit of a medieval jester. Their son, Fleet, has preternatural awareness and is building a fourteenth-century French cathedral out of matchsticks. A Kurdish immigrant, Gaffar, observes them all with sardonic weariness, and chats up Kelly, a sympathetic chavette who breaks her leg and finds God. I could go on, but my eyes are watering as it is.As an ensemble piece, it starts off something like a prose version of Magnolia. But there is more going on here, and considerably more weirdness than a froggy April shower. ‘Darkmans’ is archaic thieves' slang for ‘night’; but Barker (who never explains this) takes it as a name for the medieval jester mentioned above, whose shadowy presence lurks behind all the other characters, occasionally breaking through with sinister results. Something is being said, it seems, about how close to us our history is, lying unrecognised beneath the surface of the present. Ashford, in this context, makes the ideal setting.A lot has been said about Barker's use of language. Here too, the past is forever barging its way into the present, albeit in a way which I found somewhat trivial. Characters with trouble keeping their grip on reality are likely to slip accidentally into German, Latin or Middle French. The reminder that our language is a collection of fossils is crucial, but the tricks Barker uses to make the point have been pulled off more effectively by other writers.In other ways, too, I found the language disappointing, even slapdash. It's exhilarating to see such a crazy jumble of characters and plot points; but when the same principles are applied to sentences it too often comes over as just a poorly-controlled prose style. Her love of parenthetical asides can make her appealingly conversational, but after too many you end up with sentences that seem to be made of elbows.And Beede (who hadn't, quite frankly, really considered all of these lesser implications – Mid-Kent Water plc didn't run itself, after all) found himself involved (didn't he owe the condemned properties that much, at least?) in a crazy miasma of high-level negotiations, conservation plans, archaeological investigations and restoration schemes, in a last-ditch attempt to rectify the environmental devastation which (let's face it) he himself had partially engendered.A few sentences like this are quite fun; but a dozen per page is sometimes an effort. There are brackets here by the hundred. I also became a little frustrated by the way no one ever ‘says’ anything in this book. On one double page opened at random, I find:‘So you think I could do better?’ he smiled…‘Why not?’ she demanded…‘And it ain't only me as thinks so, neither,’ she continued…‘Your poor old mum?!’ he grinned.‘He's been schmoozing my mum, Kane,’ Kelly exclaimed…‘Well he can't fancy her that much,’ she sniffed…‘The ignorant fuck,’ she scowled.‘He didn't shag her,’ Kane repeated.‘God, no,’ Kane muttered…‘Anyway,’ Kane maintained…‘Her tits are amazing,’ Kane added…(Feel free to read the preceding as a modernist poem.) You get the idea – though in fairness, there are a couple of ‘said’s in there too. Also needlessly erratic is the paragraph spacing, which appears to be entirely random – sometimes we get a whole new section halfway through a conversation.None of this disguises the fact that when the writing is held under control, Barker is impressive. Her treatment of characters' internal dialogue, for one thing, can achieve strange new effects. She often skips to a new line to give us the unedited thoughts of whoever she is describing, which form a colloquial counterpoint to the action.He glanced down –DamnThe tip of his spliff had dropped off into his lap. And there was still a small –Fuck! – ember…He cuffed it from his jeans and down on to the floor. He checked the fabric – no hole, but a tiny, brown…BuggerHe took a final, deep drag –Nope…Dead – then tried to push the damp dog-end into the ashtray, but the ashtray, it seemed, was already full to capacity.At times like this the text reminded me of a comic strip, in the way such ‘thought bubbles’ are pulled out of the narrative. It takes some getting used to, but she convinces you it's an effective tool. Part of the reason it seems so effective is that her characters are the book's greatest draw and its biggest reward. This becomes clear once you realise the plot's inexplicable but that you still loved the novel. Some of the throwaway jokes are excellent (Beede has ‘a stare which could make an owl crave Optrex’), and one scene detailing a horrendous middle-class dinner party is a comic tour-de-force.Like the mysterious Darkmans, Barker believes that humour can ‘often be a direct route to power’, and there is something serious at work behind the jokes – even if the ending leaves you unsure how it all technically came about. What you are likely to be more sure about is what an unusual and enjoyable way she has of asking the central question: if we can't understand our history, then how can we understand each other? Because despite the one-liners, the image that stayed with me was that of Kane and his father walking away from each other after another halting argument:They both turned. They both paused. They both took one measured step forward, then another; like a pair of old adversaries engaging in a duel, but without weapons, or seconds, or anybody to call.

Such a great cover, too. This is what Nicola Barker does. Here she's talking about what her character Elen does. She's a chiropodist.:On a good day she was a Superman or a Wonderwoman,doggedly fighting foot-crime and the causes of foot-crime (usually - when all was finally said and done - the ill-fitting shoe . . . Okay, so it was hardly The Riddler, or The Penguin, but in a serious head-to-head between a violent encounter with either one of these two comic-book baddies and an eight-hour, minimum-wage shift behind the bar of a 'happening' Ashford night-spot with a corn the size of a quail's egg throbbing away under the strappy section of your brand-new, knock-off Manolo Blahniks . . . Well . . . it'd be a pretty close call).Elen firmly believed that she was making a difference. She was nothing less than an evangelist for the foot. She was a passionate devotee. She worshipped at the altar of the arch and the heel. Sometimes it wasn't easy. The foot was hardly the most glamorous of the appendages ('yer dogs', 'yer plates', 'yer hoofs'). No one really gave a damn about it (although - fair's fair - the acupuncturists had done a certain amount for the cause, and the reflexologists had sexed things up a little, but in Elen's view, the short-fall still fell . . . well, pretty damn short). The foot had sloppy PR; it mouldered, uncomplainingly, down at the bottom (the fundus, the depths, the nadir) of the physiological hegemony. It had none of the pizzazz of the hand or the heart. The lips! The eyes (the eyes had it all their own way). Even the neck, the belly ... the arse. Even the arse had a certain cachet. But not the foot. The foot had none (the foot had Fergie, with her lover, sprawled on a deckchair, in the Cote du Tawdry). The foot lived in purdah - in cold climes particularly. It was hidden away, crammed inside, squeezed.Nicola Barker's middle name is ebullient. She hammers things into the ground, bulldozes, steamrollers, she overwhelms with a rich rash rush of verbiage, throws the kitchen sink in and the neighbour's - oh, now I'M doing it too! It's not that hard, evidently. The tone, as you see, is mildly humorous, almost mildly mocking, certainly not serious. Very occasionally she is funny, as opposed to mildly humorous. This book is so mild and desperate for a cuddle. So by page 200 she's invented a small cast of mildly caricatured oddballs set in the present day (they buy books over the internet and everything) and bathed them all in an unstoppable torrential gush of slightly, occasionally humorous commentary. Also, I have been peering through a powerful book-telescope but I have yet to distinguish anything which appears to be a plot, a story, a narrative, although a couple of Last Mimzy kids have now hoved into view so maybe it will turn into some kind of tepidly funny science fiction which is the very kind of science fiction I can't say I'm much of a fan of. Still, I'll give it another 200 pages.One week laterNo, I won't, and my week-ago self can't make me by jumping into a time machine and appearing in front of me with a haughty sneer. Nicola Barker finally made me give up by writing a 10 page skit about a dodgy builder which was as deeply unfunny as British comedy unfortunately frequently can be. It was dire, it was obvious, it was as lame as a three legged dog. So, in the words of many Samuel Beckett characters, I can't go on.
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Reviews
Clint
This was a shot in the dark I took, never having heard of the book or the author, and I scored. The writing of this book isn't the kind of thing I usually go for, stream of consciousness, sound effects, etc., and there were way more pop culture references than I normally tolerate, but in the end, this book reminds me of a really simplified Thomas Pynchon, meant as a compliment. I knew by about page 5 or 6 hundred that when the book ended at page 838 I wasn't going to understand everything that was happening. Basically I must assume everyone in the book goes insane from time to time, and one character is insane most of the time (Dory), and people can imagine things and make them form in the real world. This last part was kind of strange because in the horror novel I read just before this book the same thing happened. This was the first book I've read by Nicola Barker, and I think she's very funny and talented. I think I'll read more books by her if they pop up.
Mary-anne
I'm 100 pages in and struggling. Nothing's coming together for me yet. Hopefully it won't ramble for the remaining 738 pages.350 pages in and enjoying MUCH more. Very funny book.Whew!! What a ride. This book reminded me very much of a Tarantino movie in that some of the situations are absolutely off the wall (the pillory scene, for example), it's fast-paced and you just have to go with it. I'm sure there are many levels on which you could take this book and it would take another couple of reads to completely digest (which I am not prepared to do at this moment), but at the surface, it is very funny and entertaining.
Leo Robertson
Unbelievably bad. Unreadably bad. At first I thought it had the same problem as Stephen King's IT, that the story was in there somewhere but I couldn't find it, but worse, there's seriously no story. So irritatingly written. Each page peppered with italics and -ings and -lys and parentheses of spurious details and weird Germanic bold text (not used for any apparently different reason from all those italics) and telling-over-showing and crazy speech tags followed by lengthy adverbial phrases and digressive never-to-revisit-or-use backstories. About one thing happens per 2 pages, and most of the time it already happened, and it's as exciting as learning the name of a dog (will this 2 pager dog return even?) in the case of a whole 160 or so pages, learning the name of the guy who got off the horse outside the cafe of the main characters (right?) in chapter 1, which was so great a reveal that we went on to book the second! The language is trying so hard to entertain, but I've heard these jokes before and so have you, and one non-extended unmixed metaphor per character motion or thought etc would, well, probably still be too much for me to follow.Barker, having written so many novels (none I feel like trying) must must must know how bad these errors are, right? She's doing it on purpose? Why? Is that the point? I seriously, amicably, don't understand, don't get, don't comprehend, how anyone finished joyfully, ended happily, completed endearingfully, this! It's not like it's too very dense or intellectual or, or... Or like, or... or anything, it's just like per se totally empty spurious spurious!So bad.So bad that I actually have nothing on me to read and I still don't wanna read it! It hurts, Nicola! NICOLAAAAAAAAAAA!!
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