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Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker

Burley Cross Postbox Theft (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Nicola Barker

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1018119,589 (3.48)21
Title:Burley Cross Postbox Theft
Authors:Nicola Barker
Info:Fourth Estate (2010), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library, books I have read
Tags:@jv-rr, in: 2h, village life, hb, dec, 2012, epistolary, funny, crime

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Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker (2010)



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Dear Ms Barker,

(I came across your paperback in a charity bookshop. Amnesty International. The lady on the till was charming in the way that all ladies who disapprove of banging up political prisoners tend to be, and was having her afternoon tea when I purchased your book. It occurs that this is exactly the sort of book that one would expect to find in a charity bookshop, one that has been donated by somebody savvy and sharp and with a dislike of the ghastly.)

Nicola Barker, well, you take the cake, the biscuit, and the after dinner mint. Never in all my born puff have I read such an artfully constructed, snide, wonderful, funny, tragic, offensive and uplifting epistolary novel.

It’s a hell of a trick girl, if you can pull it off, which you do, pulling it off in style. It’s a device so clever that you would think it was dreamt up in a shed by a man smelling strongly of swafega and analogue pornography. Attention to detail, craftsmanship, that’s what it’s all about. A novel constructed out of letters that have reportedly been pinched, purloined and plundered from the post office box in the oh-so-very northern village of Burley Cross.

And what an opening! Nicola (can I call you Nicola?) have you no regard, no thought no feeling at all for those that travel on public transport? The poor chap opposite me was quite, quite distressed at the state of his suit – by page three of your book I was laughing so hard that fragments of my Cornish pasty (the travelling snack of choice for the avid reader, as it lends itself to one handed consumption) had showered his lapels. Naturally I offered to change jackets then and there, but the fellow declined. Then moved. Carriages.

Nicky, this is a tour de farce, a page turner and a gripper. What can I say? I loved it.

Except. Well.

You don’t like little Englanders much, do you? And you like scatological passages. A lot.

Now, I’m as passionate about dog shit as the next chap (anti, for clarity), but by the end of the first missive detailing the dangers of doggy do on the moor, I was starting to regret my steak and onion ‘smugglers feast’, I can tell you.

But shit aside, this is quite an achievement. A collection of 26 letters from the varied residents of Burley Cross. Saints and sinners, martyrs and malcontents, woven into an interconnected tale that builds into a deeply satisfying mystery puzzle. It’s a fabulous way to take a cross section of a village and have them expose their innermost thoughts and feelings, and come to think of it their outermost thoughts and feelings also.

It’s all here, isn’t it? The officious little shits who fire off their self-important letters, the pitiful but funny, then the pitiful but painful. The funny, the touching and the one the reader might have written themselves, or would have loved to receive. It’s a tiny village, and it’s a privileged peek not just into the homes but into the hearts of the inhabitants, and it’s all of us.

Would I like to live there? Yes, but only with your novel as a guide book to the indigenous nutters.

But the end Nickster, ah, the end. Those last few pages. I won’t spoil them for you in case you haven’t read them but suffice to say you have no compassion at all for the commuting reader. I was asked by at least one concerned fellow traveller if I was alright and had to confess that yes, I was, and I always cry like this when I am faced with the double whammy of the end of a truly enjoyable book and final passages that skirt the catastrophe curve of sentimentality but deliver a stunningly satisfying and uplifting conclusion. Luckily, I had a spare napkin from a pasty shop to mop up the worst of the tears.

Rich, deep, diverse, and entertaining in the very best sense, you have written a novel that manages to be clever and funny and which pulls off that rarest of tricks – being funnier than it is clever. ( )
  macnabbs | Oct 10, 2013 |
This is a high 3/5 stars but that's really all I can say. Barker is witty and exceptional at writing and all of her novels have something special about them but I really expected more from this one. It's about a Postbox Theft where all that is left are a series of letters from the small English town of Burley Cross but really it's about the inner workings of a town between the destitute and the desperately romantic, the homeoerotic secret lover spots and the miserly old spinsters...what is interesting is the vastly different takes on the characters of the town from different perspectives. It really makes you wonder what the truth really is about each human being that supposedly exists and resides there and makes you realize how different your point of view on someone may be from someone else and how differently people may think of you.

This could very easily de-evolve soap opera style if it weren't for Barker's wit and talented prose. Still, it doesn't seem profound or life changing in any way. I still think Darkmans is her best that I've read thus far clearly. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
A terrible crime has taken place in the quiet, complacent village of Burley Cross. Some vandal has broken into the village postbox, taken out the contents and dumped them in a back alley. The village bobby is handed the bundle of letters - the only available evidence of who might have committed this nefarious deed. As he, and we, read through them, we get a vivid and funny picture of village life - the busybodies, the nosy neighbours, the sweet old ladies and the downshifting city dwellers.

Some condemn themselves out of their own unreliable-narrator mouths; for others, you have to wait a few letters for the pieces of the story to fit together. The hinge of the narrative is a long letter which details the village 'auction of promises' - where some villagers donate services to be auctioned for charity, from sprucing up a garden to making a quilt or writing a song. Somehow, in the process, everyone is shown at their best or worst (depending on character).

It would be fairly easy to pick holes in this book. The butts of the jokes are often fish in a barrel. There's a surprising number of letters sent considering these days of email. And every single correspondent writes more or less in the style of Nicola Barker - digressive, emotional and emphatic. But you know what? It's a style that I enjoy reading.

This book isn't Darkmans. (Alas, what is?) But it's a very lively read. I whipped through it with a grin on my face, and at the end I realised that the village's inhabitants had worked their way into my heart - I really wanted to know what happened to them next! Given the way that hints scattered through the letters were stitched together at the end, though, I do have a certain confidence that the good ones will end happily... ( )
  wandering_star | Dec 20, 2012 |
I’ve thought about this book for some time after I finished it but haven’t really come to any definite conclusion – do I like this book or do I not? Let me list the pros and cons of this book.

- It’s written all in letters. I like that. Brings me back to some of the books I read in high school.
- You can get a good perspective of the village of Burley Cross through all those letters.
- There are some truly funny moments, such as the ‘sex hex’.
- It’s original.
- The ending is truly innovative.

- All written in letters means sometimes not a lot of background detail is there.
- Sometimes some characters don’t really seem to fit in all that well into the overall narrative (such as the church play, who was the person writing the letter and what was their role?)
- People don’t really write letters that much nowadays due to email etc. and they don’t always go into extreme detail. (A fairly trivial point though).
- The neighbourly arguments can sometimes be a little too close to reality. (Not applicable if you live in Summer Bay or Neighbours).
- It gets a little boring in places, trying to work out where all these people fit!

There you go. After writing the list, I’ve tempted to lean towards the ‘I like’ list, but you probably won’t feel comfortable reading a book about village life (disputes, love, friendship, planning disputes etc.) if you’re having a neighbour war of your own. On the other hand, it is a witty look at petty politics and worth a laugh, particularly if you’ve ever had any voyeuristic thought about a post box. The characters are over the top (I still shudder thinking of Baxter and his appearance post-sex hex) and cleverly illustrated to display their flaws. There are loving moments and some just plain ridiculous moments (such as the phantom dog dropping bags tied to fences). Like real life, there are some moments that just seem not to do anything or be part of the bigger picture. In retrospect, I found that nice – too often now TV programmes and some books lack any deviation from the Major Plot Line.

This book is an eccentric departure from the linear plot and should be enjoyed as such. You’ll either like it (as I ended up doing after I penned my thoughts) or think it’s a load of junk mail. ( )
  birdsam0610 | Feb 20, 2012 |
Well, certainly 'different' and quite clever in its idiosyncratic way. But I had so many other books on back burner that I couldn't get round to finishing it. I shouldn't have started this review at all really. ( )
  hazelk | Oct 26, 2010 |
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For Michael Crosby-Jones, Margot Prew, Alfred the Pungent,
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"Reading other people ?s letters is always a guilty pleasure. But for two West Yorkshire policemen ? contemplating a cache of 26 undelivered missives, retrieved from a back alley behind the hairdresser's in Skipton ? it ?s also a job of work. The quaint moorside village of Burley Cross has been plunged into turmoil by the theft of the contents of its postbox, and when PC Roger Topping takes over the case, which his higher-ranking schoolmate Sergeant Laurence Everill has so far failed to crack, his expectations of success are not high."--Publisher description.… (more)

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