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Behindlings by Nicola Barker

Behindlings (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Nicola Barker

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168570,815 (3.5)8
Authors:Nicola Barker
Info:Flamingo (2003), Paperback, 544 pages
Collections:Owned, not read, Your library, @JV
Tags:in: 2h, @jv

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Behindlings by Nicola Barker (2002)



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Showing 5 of 5
God this was difficult. I'm in two minds about it. On the one hand there are some outbursts of exceptionally fine writing, like this from chapter ten:

“Dewi chewed solemnly on a heavily-salted tomato sandwich as he peered through his living room window, his dust-iced skin zebraed by the sharp stripes of winter light which gushed, unapologetically – like hordes of white-frocked debutantes flashing their foaming silk petticoats in eager curtsies – between the regimented slats of his hand-built shutters.”

On the other hand her tricolons can descend into lists of extraneous words that obscure the text like a sort of soft sleet.

It's a unique piece of work; the only novel that's sent me to google to see if there really is a Wimpy's on Canvey (there isn't). Everything's more or less off kilter and there's a hallucinatory quality to the world in which the characters are strange visions.

And that's a problem because the characters aren't in any sense real; I just didn't care whether they lived or not. Another problem is the lack of plot. You probably thing I'm very old-fashioned, expecting novels to have characterisation and a plot, but I really think they tend to have them because that's what makes them enjoyable. This barely has a narrative.

This brings me to wonder what the point of this novel is. If anything, it appears to be about the hopeless search for meaning, both for the characters in life and for us (the reader) in the book. I don't think I'm wrong in thinking that the whole novel is a perverse piss-take by Barker. Here's an example from chapter forty-seven:

“It was impossible to see far in the soft sleet, the half-light. Perhaps God was masquerading – Ted thought, scowling – for fun or out of sheer viciousness, as some kind of cack-handed amateur artist; roped in to paint the scenery for a bad school drama; working for nothing and – by the shoddy calibre of his output – without enthusiasm; wholly intent upon making the whole dmn world int a heavy-handed caricature; a sketch; a border; a wing; a back-drop.”

Barker being God. I enjoy intellectual games in a novel, and this would have made a superb short story. Personally I found five hundred pages of having the piss taken out of me a bit much. On the other hand it's exercised my brain. ( )
  Lukerik | Aug 24, 2015 |
This is vintage Barker. She manages to create surreal plots which nevertheless make perfect sense, and this one about a weird cult is a prime example. As ever, descriptions are nailed with endless similes - takes me ages to read a page because I have to keep stopping, rereading and savouring. The exuberance of her language is exhilarating and makes you feel quite breathless. There's no one quite like her. Behindlings isn't quite as good as Darkmans, but then not much is. Pageturningly compulsive and fun. ( )
  Roseredlee | Jul 25, 2015 |
I read an odd little book called Behindlings by Nicola Barker. I’d ordered this one at the same time as Clear, which I found pretty compelling. The girlfriend had had a go at Behindlings before me, and she said that she just couldn’t get on with it.

I, on the other hand, am a big big fan. The story is, without doubt, fucked up. The main character is some kind of genius nomad who inexplicably has people who quite literally follow him 24/7. He sets puzzles for them, but never speaks to them. The story finds him as one group tries to solve an epic puzzle which involves many aspects of his past, drawing in people who thought he’d left them long behind.

Barker is a wordsmith of the highest quality, endlessly inventive and witty. She has a deft turn of phrase, and can throw you off the trail of what to expect from a paragraph. She writes in very much a stream-of-consciousness style, with numerous asides and parentheses, putting every thought of each character down on the page, even if it sacrifices grammatical correctness. The story is all.

It’s an acquired taste, no doubt, but worth persevering with. If I went back and re-read this, no doubt I’d find a hell of a lot more foreshadowing and clues in the early chapters, even though this isn’t a whodunnit. It’s not really anything genre-wise, just a story of this man and his groupies, for want of a better word. And it’s brilliant. ( )
  gooneruk | Nov 17, 2009 |
While this may be the novel Nicola Barker herself likes most of all, I think I preferred 'Darkmans'. I certainly like her style of writing as she really gets into the characters' minds and has two strands going at the same time, what they say and, in italics, what they're thinking, and I find this enriches the text and adds insight and often humour. Where I felt 'Darkmans' had more for me was in that I could relate to aspects of that book whereas I feel 'Behindlings' is more remote. ( )
  evening | Jul 2, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nicola Barkerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Diderich, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibert, CatherineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060933623, Paperback)

Behindlings, the fifth novel from Nicola Barker, is a welcome return, both in mood and in geography, to the gothic terrain of her Impac Prize winner Wide Open. Set in parochial Canvey Island, Essex, this book is inventive, funny, unnerving, and often magnificently strange.

Barker's Canvey (once dubbed "Candy Island" by Daniel Defoe) is, with its Wimpy Bar, dreary pubs, and long-cherished grudges, rumours, and secrets, a quintessentially English small town. Its emotionally damaged population is augmented by the "Behindlings" of the title, a gaggle of oddballs who follow, or more precisely obsessively stalk, the novel's enigmatic central character, Wesley. The architect of a chocolate company-funded treasure hunt, author of a pseudo-Nietzschean walking guide and the man behind the daring theft of an antique pond, he is a rather malevolent Pied Piper. Part Alvin Toffler-quoting, peripatetic environmental visionary, part immoral (and maybe downright evil) fraudster, he's also notorious for feeding the fingers on his right hand to an eagle owl "in an act of penance" for accidentally killing his brother.

Barker has always had a penchant for the surreal, and occasionally here both plot and characterization can get swamped in flights of absurdist imagination. She is perhaps too fond of the elaborate simile. The clackety, clackety of the "like" and "as" of her prose style is, from time to time, a little exasperating. Despite this, her narrative is so alluringly, so charmingly odd, bristling with puzzles and etymological games and full of wonderfully, devilishly comic touches, that it's easy to ignore its minor flaws. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:48 -0400)

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