Books by Nicola Barker

THE CAULIFLOWER by Nicola Barker
Released: Aug. 9, 2016

"Respectful, playful, and often entertaining—though just as often puzzling. Barker's fans will enjoy the outing, forgiving her quirks."
A headily curry-scented tale, part fable and part imaginative biography, by postmodern maven Barker (In The Approaches, 2014, etc.). Read full book review >
DARKMANS by Nicola Barker
Released: Nov. 27, 2007

"If you go with the flow and reconcile yourself to the lack of plot, you'll find plenty to enjoy."
The hip, the square and the crazy trip over their pasts and each other in this boisterous latest from Barker (Clear, 2005, etc.), a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. Read full book review >
CLEAR by Nicola Barker
Released: June 17, 2005

"Kudos to Barker for pulling that off. The novel itself is another story. "
The British author (Behindlings, 2002, etc.) riffs amusingly on a recent historical incident. Read full book review >
BEHINDLINGS by Nicola Barker
Released: Dec. 1, 2002

"An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-near perfect piece of work."
One man leads, a band of misfits follows. Read full book review >
Released: July 26, 1999

Terse, droll, and unsettling tales from a highly idiosyncratic young British writer. Barker has drawn together 19 stories from two collections not yet published here. They share with her novels (Wide Open, 1998, etc.) a conviction that life is stranger than we imagine—and perhaps stranger than we can imagine—and that only those willing to pursue extreme behavior of one sort or another (or incapable of doing otherwise) are likely to glimpse the true, deeply weird parameters of existence. A 16-year-old girl, in "Layla's Nose Job," is burdened with a grotesque nose. But plastic surgery only serves to demonstrate that her strangeness isn't just skin-deep. The discovery turns her ingeniously violent. In "Inside Information," Martha, a professional shoplifter, becomes pregnant and attempts to turn her pregnancy to criminal advantage, only to find herself harassed by her foetus, which not only can talk but proves to have grisly plans of its own. It's impossible, many of these stories argue, for outsiders to escape their alienation. In three related pieces ("Blisters," "Braces," and "Mr. Lippy") featuring Wesley, a charming but damaged young man, attempts at normality are grimly, inevitably defeated. In "Skin," two young women, longtime friends, are driven apart when one of them has an odd (and liberating) sexual encounter with a male shoplifter at the clothing store where she works, finding that the event opens up a new world to her, one that is "simple, unadulterated, natural and yet unnatural," and one that terrifies her seemingly sophisticated friend. In the title story, one of Barker's most naturalistic, a middle-aged woman, who's been abandoned by her husband, discovers, thanks to the ministrations of several odd acquaintances, how little she needs him—and how wayward and liberating true eroticism is. The high strangeness quotient here means that these tales aren't for everyone. But those with a taste for odd, haunting characters, unsettling incidents, and a deadpan, savage sense of humor, will likely find them uniquely stirring. Read full book review >
WIDE OPEN by Nicola Barker
Released: Oct. 19, 1998

A wayward, often puzzling, but ultimately rather haunting story about a group of outcasts, all in flight from a variety of real or imagined horrors, who collide on a desolate patch of British seacoast. British writer Barker (Love Your Enemy, stories, 1994, not reviewed; etc.) is exceptionally audacious; for much of the novel, the forces that have set her characters in motion and the odd ways in which several are related are only vaguely suggested. She depends on the sheer strangeness of them, their skewed mental states, and on her precise descriptions of their fractured interpretations of the world to propel the reader on. There are, to begin with, two men who meet in London—one is homeless, absorbed by weird rituals, perhaps suicidal; the other makes a living applying toxic sprays to urban weeds. Alarmed and fascinated by the homeless man, the latter takes him along to his small, featureless house by the sea. Both, it seems, are named Ronny. Their neighbors include Lily, a young woman who is "unpredictable, stunted . . . and raging," and Luke, a diffident pornographer. Soon they—re joined by Connie, who's in search of a mysterious figure named as a beneficiary in her father's will, and Nathan, the older brother of one of the Ronnys, a man crippled by his failure to save his brother, years ago, from the appetites of their violent pedophile father. These figures are alike only in their baffled inability to communicate with the world and in their increasingly violent hopes of escape—from their odd dreams, from each other, and from life. A climax of sorts begins with the escape of a massive boar from a nearby farm. One character dies, another suffers a breakdown, several others achieve weird kinds of liberation. Theme resolutions, however, appear incidental. Barker seems determined both to defy most narrative expectations and to create a group of figures so isolated and so strange that they both fascinate and move us. It's some testament to her skill that she succeeds in both goals. Not an easy book, but an oddly (even unpleasantly) affecting one. Read full book review >