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.