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Darkmans by Nicola Barker

Darkmans (edition 2007)

by Nicola Barker

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
673None14,171 (3.73)121
Authors:Nicola Barker
Info:Harper Perennial (2007), Paperback, 848 pages
Collections:Bex, books I have read, Your library
Tags:october, 2008, fiction, UK, read in italy, demonic possession, Ashford, 21st century britain, rambling, ambitious, medieval, @bex

Work details

Darkmans by Nicola Barker

  1. 20
    The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (Widsith)
    Widsith: Both slightly bonkers Kent-based novels-of-ideas with supernatural elements...I think Barker is the better writer, but Thomas has the whole geeky-cool angle covered.
  2. 00
    The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (krist_ellis)

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English (18)  Dutch (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
This book is sort of like if you put Cloud Atlas into a blender. I certainly enjoyed it, though I was about halfway through before I became really engaged. When you're dealing with an 838-page novel, that's a pretty big commitment.

I found the characters very lovable and intriguing. Geez, my favorite thing ever was Beede asking Gaffar in mangled Turkish whether his father gets "leaf afraid." YES, so great.

Ultimately, though, I wanted it to cohere a bit more at the end. I felt like we were building toward something huge that I never got to witness. Did I miss it?

It might just be that I've been so deep in the 19th century lately that I have a preference for endings that add up to something less ambiguous and more definite. It might be that I need to go back and reread more slowly. But my guess is more that it's difficult to take things that have been deliberately scrambled and fragmented and then connect them. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I loved every moment of reading this book. While I was away from it I needed to get back to it, which for me, is my definition of a supremely successful novel. ( )
  Phil-James | Sep 29, 2013 |

“The truth” Peta informed him, baldly, “is just a series of disparate ideas which briefly congeal and then slowly fall apart again….”

What can I say about Darkmans? This has been a very hard to review to write. Barker goes on a journey into an unusual haunting with a collection of unusual characters with an unusual approach. It’s, well, unusual. I got to the end of the 800+ pages and thought that it may not have been worth dedicating that many pages to the story she wanted to tell, but also couldn’t for the life of me think of how it could have been made any shorter and kept its essence. There are some wonderful characters and situations in this book which starts and ends mid-story. History repeats itself, historical characters come to life in the modern day, it’s a father son story, it’s a mother son story, it’s a story of chiropody and art forgery, of disappearances and re-appearances, of immigrants and incompetent builders. It is a great many things. It is not a neat book, there are no explanations, you won’t get to the end and have a light bulb moment, it is dark and it is curious and it is wonderful.

Overall – A great read but one that leaves you a little perplexed and maybe even uncomfortable. ( )
  psutto | Jul 9, 2013 |
Ms. Barker may or may not be a good writer, but this isn’t a good book. I liked the characters, and much of her writing style, a lot, but there are so many problems.

Very mild spoilers may follow, not really giving away the plot though;

There is no plot. I was actually enjoying the book quite a bit in spite of the problems, but when I got to the end of the 800 pages I realized I didn’t know any more about the story than I did when I read the blurb on the back. There is no story. She sets up this interesting cast of characters and slowly unveils a complex web of some kind of supernatural, psychological, and possibly historical connection that binds them all together. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to see where this was going. It doesn’t go anywhere. She simply doesn’t explain or even hint very strongly at an explanation for any of the things that were happening, not even how all these people are supposed to be connected except things like "oh, I worked with him on a project a few years ago". Ooh, I didn’t see that coming!

The book just ends. It could have ended like that at any point and been just as satisfying.

The strange part is that much of it is well written, and on the other hand it’s full of weird and cheap writing tricks, as well some just plain bad writing. It sort of felt like she just didn’t trust her writing skills, or Joe Eszterhas was brought in to pump it up.
1. She writes the whole book with the characters thoughts in italics between lines. Only there isn’t really any information there. It’s 95% "hmmm" "what?" "maybe" "so…" and this goes on for THE WHOLE BOOK.
2. There’s a lot of dialog in this book, and 9 out of 10 times one person says something, the other person says "what?" or "huh?" and then the first person repeats it. It’s truly bizarre how often this happens.
3. She writes in a pretty natural style (except for the things I’ve mentioned) so it was kind of jarring when she would suddenly throw these bad creative writing class sentences in, almost all in the exact structure of "the blank blanked blankly on the blank, like a blank in blank" as in "The dead whale bobbed soddenly in the tide, like the last pickle in the jar" (I’m too lazy to look one of hers up, that’s my impersonation). Suddenly there would be a couple of these per page, and then they’d go away for a while. It was like another writer slipped some parts in.
4. She introduces lots of ancillary characters in as part of this web, and then just drops them. At least you get some sort of feel for the main 4 or 5 characters. The others are introduced in ways that seem important. I’m thinking "aha, they both know Mr. X, I wonder what that means?". Turns out it means nothing. There’s lots of revelations that 2 characters have a connection by another character that suddenly shows up, but then that’s it, just the fact that they have a common acquaintance.

When you add that all up it’s a lot like listening to a child tell a long rambling that they’ve forgotten the point of halfway through.

It has a really interesting germ of an idea for a plot, but apparently she couldn’t figure it out.

Sometimes I read a book and don’t love it until the end, this was the opposite. I really don’t know what the point of this book was, it seemed like someone practicing writing characters for when they write a real novel. Even saying all that, it wasn’t at all terrible, or totally unenjoyable, just kind of pointless in the end. I’m sure there’s some sort of "The Tree represents longing" type theory going on here, but it was a flawed theory.
( )
1 vote bongo_x | Apr 6, 2013 |
It's about as challenging to describe Nicola Barker's writing style as it is to read it but picture Thomas Pynchon's twisty and chaotic words with an unreliable narrator in terms of depicting the true reality of every moment crossed with a bit of Flannery O'Connor and you'll have something close. Her vocabulary in and of itself is like a dense road to travel on but it's filled with some glorious wit and cultural references too, for those of us who enjoy sightseeing.

I don't use this term lightly but Ms. Nicola Barker is brilliant and that's something you pick up from the first thrusts of this ambition novel. This is a work of postmodern fiction that brings this genre to a pinnacle and simultaneously to it's knees. It's unfaltering and awe inspiring and perhaps the most inventive novel I've read all year. This one will leave you gasping to keep up and gaping at each new chapter. And truly, I haven't seen characters this vivid since Trainspotting..this is very different in terms of subject matter but the sense of these people really and truly alive is unmistakable.

This novel is a little bit about the relationship of a father and son as well as between a wife and a husband and their son who seems to definitely be on the Autism spectrum but seems centered mainly on delusions and how they affect everyone and everything. Of course, the reader must suffer to decipher through these delusions too and figure out what really is happening. Barker doesn't always spell things out. That would be way too easy on her readers and she clearly expects much more from us.

This is set in postmodern England but it draws from many different time periods in terms of the breadth of it's references. Decipher Barker's true meaning in all it's ways and you might hold the key to the entire universe. Either way, take a glorious stab at it. Even if you don't succeed, you'll be stronger for your journey.

Some quotes:

pg. 174 "He already had a well-documented genius for circumnavigation."

pg. 356 "'A man needs a maid."Kane automatically quoted Neil Young.
'Just someone to keep his house clean, fix his meals and go away." she quoted back
'Marry me!' Kane exclaimed.

pg. 773 "'Is it because of my line of work? Kane demanded, paranoid. 'Is it because I'm a dealer?'...'Does that just make you automatically assume,'Kane continued, furious, 'that I'm the kind of person who thinks pretty much anything can be bought and sold?'"

pg. 824 "The *truth*," Peta informed him, baldly, 'is just a series of disparate ideas which briefly congeal and then slowly fall apart again...The truth is that there is no truth. Life is just a series of coincidences, accidents and random urges which we carefully forge for our own, sick reasons-into a convenient design. Everything is arbitrary. Only art exists to make the arbitrary congeal. Not memory or God or love, even. Only art. The truth is simply an idea, a structure which we employ-in very small doses-to render life bearable. It's just a convenient mechanism."

pg. 825 "You were telling yourself a story. You were weaving a spell. You were making all the parts fit. You were feeding into a general energy, a universal energy. You were probably adhering to a basic archetype a 'first model' as the Ancient Greeks would have it-something like he's threatened by his father, he loved his mother, he's terrified of death...or maybe something more intellectual, more esoteric like...I don't know..like the idea of this disparity between fire and water. She pulled a moronic face, 'Or the absurd idea that language has these *gaps* in it and that lives can somehow just tumble through."

( )
3 vote kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Barker is good at capturing the bizarre things people say, and there are some very funny moments. But after 800-plus pages the humour wears thin and the literary game-playing grows tiresome.
This is the work of a very fine storyteller indeed, one who has already won prizes for her fiction and doubtless will go on to win more. Perhaps not since Robertson Davies – whose What’s Bred in the Bone, also a jesters-and-forgery-themed drama of small-town fathers and sons, is in many ways the faerie godfather of this one – has there been so able a welder of the academic and the arcane.

Darkmans is a considerable work, but Barker does take 838 pages to say a little less than [Alan] Garner conveys in 173 [pages of The Owl Service]. One gauge, perhaps, of the difference between talent and genius.
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These demanders for glimmer be for the most part women,
for glimmer, in their language is fire.

Thomas Harman - A Caveat for Common Cursitors 1567
For Scott Ehrig-Burgess in Del Mar,
who filled out that comment card.
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Kane dealt prescription drugs in Ashford; the Gateway to Europe.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061575216, Paperback)

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?

Darkmans is 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:46 -0400)

Is it John Scogin, Edward IV's infamous court jester, who enjoyed burning people alive for a laugh? Or a salad-fearing tiny Kurd called Gaffar? Or a man who guards Beckley Woods with a Samurai sword and a pregnant terrier? A very modern book set in a ridiculously modern town, Nicola Barker's Darkmans is an epic novel of startling originality. A story of invasion, obsession, possesion, art, prescription drugs, and a chiropody. And the main character is the past, creeping up on the present to whisper something quite dark, quite unspeakable into its ear.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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