Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Darkmans

Nicola Barker

4th Estate 2007

Beede thought that modern life was all waffle. Hed never owned a car or a TV. He feared the microwave. He thought deodorant was the devils sputum. He blamed David Beckham personally for breeding a whole generation of boys whose only meaningful relationship was with the mirror. Daniel Beede is a middle-aged Englishman who works in a hospital laundry, and despairs of his son Kane, a layabout drug dealer. Darkmans revolves around their difficult relationship, and on the way introduces a cast of distinctive characters and a whole pile of complicated mysteries to be solved. Theres Kelly, a fierce, damaged young woman from a severely dysfunctional family; her mother is Jabba the Hut with a womb, chronic asthma and a council flat. Gaffar is a tough Kurdish migrant, contemptuous of spoiled Western kids. Elen is a chiropodist with a mentally ill husband, and a disturbingly clever son who makes whole towns out of matchsticks. Then theres Winnie, an ex-glue sniffing delinquent turned history scholar. All of them live in Ashford, a nondescript town thats been transformed by the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Beede is the common thread running through all their lives, and his stoic, Luddite worldview permeates the novel. Hes on some kind of secret mission, warring against crass developers, and Kane and the others become unwitting participants. Weird stuff from the Middle Ages keeps leaking through into their thoroughly modern lives (dont you hate it when that happens?) and wreaking havoc on the housing estate. Im all for a bit of medieval leakage myself, but Barker doesnt explain its purpose, or its connection with the characters. By the end of the book, only a few of the mysteries are explained, and their resolutions are generally unsatisfactory. Its as if all Barkers energy went into establishing this huge, sprawling web of ideas and characters, and then she wasnt quite sure what to do with them. None of this alters the fact that Darkmans is an addictive, entertaining read. The characters are exceptionally well drawn, and I found myself engrossed in their lives, despite the frustrations of the plot. Forget the narrative, feel the width! Its a giant tangle of fascinating comments on everything from mobile phones to domestic pets and the origins of language. And every one of its 838 pages is printed on 100 per cent recycled paper!

Books reviewed are available at Book Warehouse, Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Square.


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