Friday, 4 February 2011


Nicola Barker

Darkmans is long, but it doesn't feel it. It's flippant and compellingly written, and it has it's own grammer -- brackets and page breaks that keep the narration interrupting itself over and over -- which add so much white space that the pages turn twice as quick as normal.

And the size of the cast is important when you're stepping past a quarter-million words. Darkmans gets the balance just right; there's enough people that you never dwell long enough on anyone to wonder whether they can carry you through the next half-ton of pages; but there's not so many that you forget them, get confused, or struggle to see the connections.

Darkmans is certainly enjoyable. I knew it was going to be, after every page I picked at random (when bored in my bookshop) made me giggle. I was hoping, though, that it would turn out to be more.

Here's some background. The last book I read of this length was Infinite Jest. If you've been there, you know. It was hugely entertaining, I raced through it, I loved it, and it frustrated the hell out of me. The plot starts on the page the book ends. It's a nothing book. And yes, I know, that's the point. But I wanted it -- and now, by proxy, I want Darkmans -- to be a something book.

But it's not. There's certainly something more to it than a snappy way with word-hilarity. There's a twisted kind of poetry to it, the tripping, bending, unstable explosion of language; and there's such a huge mystery behind the whole thing, even if we never get a sniff of the 'solution.'

It's all about endings, I think. Nothing books -- entertaining, intriguing, infuriating -- don't have endings. I find it hard to imagine how Darkmans could have 'ended' without ripping me off or slightly cheapening itself (but imagining a way out of it should be the author's job, anyway).

I don't want to criticise a book I enjoyed so much, but I'm hungry for a great book. I want the 800+ pages, the massive ambition and wit and intelligence, and then I want it to get better, and better, and then blow my mind. I want 800+ pages of excellent middle, and then I want an ending that lives up to it.

And it is a good thing, that after the thickest book I've read in years, I'm wanting more. It's two parts Darkmans-awesome, one part greedy-bastard.


  1. Great review. I recently finished Nicola Barker's Clear, and I completely agree about the explosion of language in her novels. I've never read anyone like her. Her writing style is simply so unique. I hope I can find a copy of Darkmans soon, since it's probably even better than Clear. :)

  2. That's an interesting point about "nothing books" and endings. I've never really thought to use the term "nothing book", but it's actually quite accurate. Often great books, but whew... nothing happens.

    As for the great book... I suspect many of us are looking for the same thing. But if we found it, where would be the fun in the search...?

  3. I was hopping around on the web looking for reviews of Darkmans and found yours... I hope i'm not overstepping myself in suggesting "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" as an excellent, and long, something book? I don't know if it is your style, but I was impressed in particular with the unemotional, yet poignant ending.

  4. @ thebooklion: you're not overstepping! I always love getting recommendations. I've seen that book around a lot of places, and it's already flirted with my curiosity: i shall take your words to heart and add it to my wishlist. thanks!