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Darkmans Paperback – November 27, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Review

'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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061575216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061575211
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eric Lundgren on January 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
This incredible, Booker-nominated novel from Nicola Barker hasn't gotten much attention on this side of the pond. This is tragic. "Darkmans" didn't win the Booker either, which doesn't surprise me. The big, anarchic comic novel doesn't do so well with prize juries (think "Gravity's Rainbow," 1973.) But how alive this book is! Barker's touch is deft and quick, and she has an unerring ear for the dialogue (external and internal) of her characters. These include a text-messaging drug dealer who reveals an unexpected compassion, a precocious child building a medieval town out of matchsticks, and the unlikeliest and funniest evangelical convert in recent memory.

I can't do justice to Barker's enormous achievement here. Her great theme is the way the past seeps into the present, the ways we betray our ancestors and also, inevitably, stumble up against them. Ghosts of the past, both recent and ancient, haunt her characters in vivid and bizarre ways. (One character, in a trance, digs for a petrified forest that has sunk below the tide; characters blurt out etymologies like ums and ers.) Her rich sense of history pervades the novel, but "Darkmans" also feels utterly contemporary with its unique form and propulsive prose. You will whip through these 848 pages, breaking only for laughter.

Don't miss this one!
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If plot is the summary of events, you have a plot. If events are truly formed from well-formed sentences, you have events. If you are looking for tidy entertainment, you shouldn't read Darkmans. But if you wish to be captivated and astounded for the 14 hours it will take you to start, and finish, then buy the book (and take it along on a transoceanic plane ride. It lasts about as long, if you read in great gulps) . I did. I am glad I did.

Barker's way with words, her characterizations, her elusivity as regards past and present, shared reality and nuttiness, her skills at dialogue and her sense of humour, are topnotch. Her ability to set a scene and to capitalize on it to keep the work moving forward is remarkable. We want to know what's going to happen, we want a denouement, we want all to be tidily tied together. We are deprived of this wish, as life so deprives us: so does Darkmans mirror our life. And just as the real world sets forth coincidences, so does Darkmans.

Logic falters in the face of the present, stories are made of what we hope happened, or what SHOULD happen. Barker doesn't let us off that easily. Readers are left confused and frustrated, at least in part. Darkmans hosts a hundred characters, of which none, after we close the back cover, can we conclude lived a life fantastic. Some, in fact, were left to hang far before that, and the few false notes in Darkmans may be the treatment of some of the minor figures: in a weft that required so many threads, occasionally a few will snarl the weave.

Other criticisms? The end. There's no ease in the finish. Was Barker rushed by her publisher? It is a long work, surely.
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By SBO on February 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
A wacky, deranged, baffling, fabulous linguistic romp. How many books can boast that? Nicola Barker is clearly insane and loves language and loves history and loves creating real characters. What a surprising pleasure to read this bizarre book!
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Format: Paperback
Darkmans appears to be about damaged or eccentric people who are thrown into everyday, mundane situations. Its bleak, yet funny even though I don't understand what the book was really about -beyond what I described in that first sentence.

The cast of characters comprise of Daniel Beede, his drug dealing son Kane, his endlessly profane ex-girlfriend Kelly and Gaffar, a Kurdish repairman who, after a fight with Kane over the seriousness of Kelly's injuries (she broke her leg falling off a wall), comes to work for him as a courier and also befriends Beede who, of course, shares a house with the son he barely talks to.

Beede's life is one shaped by things of the past -as most lives are, but seems to be haunted by the theft of some antique tiles, and has also embarked on a mysterious project with the forger named Peta Borough that seems to involve strange duplications and research into John Scogin, jester in the court of Edward IV.

Then there is the matter of Fleet, son of Elen and Dory, an eerily gifted and strangely prescient boy who builds a model of the Cathedral of Saint-Cecile with matchsticks. To the growing alarm of Elen and Dory (who seems to suffer from a mental illness somewhere between narcolepsy and schizophrenia), Fleet knows impossible amounts of information about the same John Scogin that Beede is researching. And during Dory's hazy episodes, Fleet calls his father "John".

There isn't much plot, but it does feature an incentive style prose, underlined with some very funny elements -like the fact that everyone appears to know a crap load of miscellaneous information on a wide variety of subjects.

Its an unusual novel to say the least, yet one that I could not put down.
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