Communicator (communicator) wrote,


I am reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker, which is on the Booker shortlist. It's about a group of misfits and marginal people in modern Ashford, into whose lives intrudes the spirit of a sinister Court Jester from the 16th century. The book it resembles most (that I can think of) is 'Beyond Black' by Hilary Mantel, which I really like. It's rather less accessible though.

I found this book almost equally frustrating and impressive. It's long (more than 800 pages) and I am sticking with it, but I thought I'd post about it half way through to see what other people have made of it.

Barker uses a disjointed style, which can be quite hard work. I suppose she is conveying the stream of consciousness of a modern person, whose mind jumps about from thought to half-remembered concept, constantly distracted.

Here's an example - a young man arrives at a farm. I'll try to copy the typography and layout.

It was certainly an unusual property

A small farm
A big smallholding?

He was parked in the cobbled courtyard which was full of old -


- farm machinery and surrounded by an ugly confusion of large sheds, barns and garages.


It's quite hard going, to convey nothing but a person looking at a scruffy old farm, and pages of it become slightly wearing.

On the other hand, a lot of the writing is vivid. Here's a young goth girl waking up.

She was fully dressed but dishevelled, standing in her stockinged feet with her big toes bulging - like two wilful carp - out of their fishnet restraints.

This is very little work for the reader, a conveys an excellent economical portrait, the pathetic, erotic, mournful, defiant girl.

The characters are vivid, in particular a Kurd called Gaffar who speaks in two languages (conveyed by fonts) in one of which he is eloquent, the other foolish. A lot of the ideas are super-interesting.

I would find the influx of evil more menacing if the everyday was more stolidly conveyed. Sorry, this may be philistine of me.

A major motif - for reasons which I have not yet discovered - is Albi cathedral in France. Amazingly, as I am not widely travelled, I have been to Albi cathedral. It genuinely is a very sinister place, and H and I still reference it as a shared symbol of the violence and suffering which in our view underpins religion, or at least religious dominance. You may be aware of the Albigensian crusade. Anyway, this whole theme in the book worked very well for me, for those personal reasons. In fact I may post separately about Albi.

'Inside the cathedral an enormous 15th century fresco (18 metres by 10 metres and one of the largest in the world) painted by Flemish artists and situated behind the altar depicts the Last Judgement, Resurrection of the Dead and Hell with startling realism.'

But in the mean time has anyone else read this book, and do you have the same mixed feelings of great admiration and frustration?

  • Phew what a scorcher

    I see Gove has backed down on climate change and it's back in the curriculum again.

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