Monday, 23 May 2011

Burley Cross Postbox Theft

Nicola Barker

After the massive, incomprehensible, hilarious and bruising Darkmans, Nicola Barker decided to write an almost linear, almost straightforward novel. Then she found herself disappearing down 27 separate fantastic and obtuse tangents within that relatively straightforward, arced novel. Then she went nuts, got rid of the original novel, and just kept the tangents.

I have no evidence for any of that, of course, but that's the story I back-engineered from Burley Cross Postbox Theft. It is, if anything, more marvellously scattered than Darkmans; Barker plays on the esoteric, and makes the lack of connections as much a braggable feature of the novel as the rare/barely there connections.

The conceit of BCPT is that a bag of letters, stolen from the rusting postbox, is found abandoned by the criminal in a back alley. It's these letters, along with bookending missives from the two police officers trying to solve the crime, that make up the book. It's the perfect plan for Barker, who gets to flex her fearsome muscles in constructing wild and vibrant voices. Within the 27 letters, there is enough room to roam far, far away; and enough constriction to keep the book from ballooning into a four-inch spine.

The lack of exceptional length is really important. Because not only does Barker roam/tangent/scatter/explode more than ever before, but she also ties the whole thing together. That she even tried for an 'ending' completely surprised me -- I was fully expecting a non-ending to match the non-narrative before it. But end it she did, surpassing anything I originally expected from this book.

I demanded the impossible after reading Darkmans in January. I wanted Barker -- or anyone, really -- to make virtuoso explosivity of prose the heart of a novel, to completely disprove the need for an actual ending by being so spectacular -- and then to give me the ending to match the spectacular body. And here it is, the impossible, Burley Cross Postbox Theft.

Now I want the sort of rare steak that makes me irresistable to women, and leaves next weeks lottery numbers written in blood on the plate.

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