BEHINDLINGS by Nicola Barker


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One man leads, a band of misfits follows.

The British isle of Canvey is not the kind of place where most people would want to find themselves. And yet a knot of very determined and extremely odd people have hauled themselves to the island (which, as the residents remind everyone, Defoe once mistakenly referred to as “Candy Island”) for the basic and insane purpose of Following. The object of the Following is one Wesley, a hyperintense eccentric whose life has become the stuff of legend. His followers, whom he calls Behindlings, are always there, wherever his feet take him, lurking behind, in the shadows. They compare notes on what he’s doing, where he’s going, compete with their knowledge of Wesley-ana, and generally act like the minor misbegotten maniacs that they are. Wesley also seems to be a somewhat deluded eccentric with a penchant for light ecoterrorism, seduction, and self-flattery. In the murky past that exists before the story’s even murkier present, he wrote a book that won him some renown and now has companies fighting over who is going to sponsor him, his Behindlings, and even a Web site devoted to all things Wesley. Whereas Wesley comes off as a self-important if fascinating blowhard (he once stole a pond, just to prove a point), more interesting is Katherine Turpin. Canvey’s local scarlet woman, Katherine is content to knock about her deliriously sloppy house, drinking sweet liqueurs in various stages of undress and mocking the entire Wesley enterprise. Like much else here, it’s unclear exactly how she fits into the scheme of things—a question that only gradually becomes understandable toward the haunting climax. Fortunately, this infuriatingly talented British author (The Three Button Trick, 1999, etc.) doesn’t feel any need to hurry her story along, and no real pressure to get to the bottom of its puzzle-box of confusion. Which is as it should be.

An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-near perfect piece of work.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-018569-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2002


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