Synopses & Reviews
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Darkmans
is an exhilarating, extraordinary examination of the ways in which history can play jokes on us all... 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 favorite 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?
Darkmansis 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.
The third of Nicola Barker's narratives of the Thames Gateway, Darkmans is an epic novel of startling originality.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In this epic, delirium-inducing Mad Tea Party ride, we're parachuted into the lives of some eccentric English everymen.... it's a novel like no other hilarious, bizarre, and possibly mind-altering. A-." Entertainment Weekly
"The hip, the square and the crazy trip over their pasts and each other in this boisterous latest from Barker... you'll find plenty to enjoy." Kirkus Reviews
"The book of the year for me and I suspect it'll be a book of the many years to come was Nicola Barker's Darkmans (Fourth Estate). It's a novel of prestigious craft, energy, risk, sleight of hand and linguistic generosity and acuity, and a funny, faster-than-virtual take on what's contemporary and what's history and how the twain meet and never will meet." Ali Smith, The Observer
"The Man Booker Prize is often criticised for being too serious and elitist. My gift to the naysayers is Nicola Barker's Darkmans, a tour-de-force of contemporary life set in Ashford, Kent. When it was long-listed, the writer and journalist D J Taylor described Darkmans as a 'left-field 838-page weird out'; and I celebrated. Barker is a comic genius. Her imagination is incendiary. Her subject matter is Tesco, daytime TV, builders, chiropody, the family outing from hell when Dad's kagool has not been packed. She is also fascinated by history and language. Darkmans is the novel of the decade." Ruth Scurr, The Daily Telegraph
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, "Darkmans" is an exhilarating, extraordinary examination of the ways in which history can play jokes on the unsuspecting. The third of Barkers narratives of the Thames Gateway, this work is an epic novel of startling originality.
About the Author
Nicola Barker is one of Britain's most original and exciting literary talents. She is the author of two short-story collections: Love Your Enemies [winner of the David Higham Prize and the Macmillan Silver Pen Award] and Heading Inland [winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize]. Her previous novels are Reversed Forecast, Small Holdings, Wide Open Behindlings and Clear, the last of which was long-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize. Her work is translated into twenty languages, and in 2000, she won the IMPAC Award for Wide Open. In 2003, Nicola Barker was named a Granta Best of British Novelist. She lives in London.