Monday, January 14, 2008

Pg. 99: Nicola Barker's "Darkmans"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Nicola Barker's Darkmans.

About the book, from the publisher:
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.
Among the praise for Darkmans:
"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

"In this epic, delirium-inducing Mad Tea Party ride, we're parachuted into the lives of some eccentric English everymen. They include immaculately dull hospital laundryman Daniel Beede; his prescription-drug-dealing son, Kane (a Nick Hornby character for the cheap seats); Elen, an ominous chiropodist; and Gaffar, a smart-alecky Kurdish immigrant. Though Darkmans is set in modern-day Ashford, Kent, the spirit of John Scogin, court jester to 15th-century king Edward IV, shows up from time to time to wreak havoc. Nicola Barker's novel like no other — hilarious, bizarre, and possibly mind-altering. A-"
--Karen Karbo, Entertianment 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 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

"Hilarious and erudite, spooky and unconventional, Darkmans is a dazzling achievement."
--Washington Post

"[O]nce you’re in the grip of this broad, funny, deeply strange book — once you and Darkmans are grappling with each other — neither you nor the novel is likely to let go."
--Sylvia Brownrigg, New York Times Book Review
Learn more about Darkmans at the publisher's website.

Nicola Barker is the author of two short-story collections: Love Your Enemies and Heading Inland. Her novels include Reversed Forecast, Small Holdings, Wide Open, Behindlings, and Clear, the last of which was long-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Darkmans was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize.

The Page 99 Test: Darkmans.

--Marshal Zeringue