I'm not going to go into long plot explanations - others have done it already far better than I could. I just want to say that this is a magnificent novel. I've not read any Nicola Barker before, and I was just blown away by the sheer audacity and exuberance of her prose. Yes, this book is long, but within a few pages I was completely gripped, barely able to put it down as it built up an exquisite dramatic tension. Barker develops, layer by layer, scene by scene, an almost anarchic assortment of characters, throws them together and shows us the unpredictable results. It's an almost cinematic approach to novel-writing, and makes for a demanding read - you work hard to piece together the clues scattered in her narrative - but it's totally engaging and thoroughly rewarding.
Not for a long time have I come across a writer with such a playful feel for language. Her observations, too, are startlingly fresh and apt. Yes, the novel does rely heavily on coincidence, but then so did Thomas Hardy. I don't think her aim is to be 'realistic'. We're drawn into a more magical and mysterious version of the 'real' world, and leave the novel both entranced and enriched by the experience.