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DARKMANS [Hardcover]

Nicola Barker
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; 1st Edition edition (2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0007193629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007193622
  • ASIN: B001KXIG2K
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,714,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicola Barker's eight previous novels include 'Darkmans' (short-listed for the 2007 Booker and Ondaatje prizes, and winner of the Hawthornden), 'Wide Open' (winner of the 2000 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) and 'Clear' (long-listed for the Booker Prize in 2004). She has also written two prize-winning collections of short-stories, and her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in east London. Her latest novel, 'The Yips', was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Comic, Hauntingly Sinister 30 Nov 2007
By Sharon
Format:Paperback
Despite being 838 pages long Darkmans never felt a long or arduous read, maybe because I was enjoying the joyfully meandering narration so much.

To talk about the plot of the novel is almost beside the point. Yes, there are story threads that run through, but they seem almost incidental, and not all are gathered neatly together at the end leaving the reader still caught in the mystery of who and how these folks in a modern Kent town become possessed (it seems) by characters from the past. When I was a kid I loved time-slip novels like Alan Garner's The Owl Service, and Phillipa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, and always squeeze my eyes up tight to try to see a place as it was hundred of years ago, so this aspect of the novel greatly appealed to me.

The action doesn't (for the most part) move out of a tiny geographical area, the town of Ashford in Kent. When I've mentioned this to British friends over the past week or two, I've seen their eyes boggle in disbelief that anyone would want to set a novel there.

It's a nowhere sort of place, a transportation hub, serving the Eurostar service to continental Europe and torn up by roads. Whatever charm and history it had in the past has become pretty much obliterated in the interest of "development". But Ashford with its bypasses and Tesco's and substandard modern housing estates, is arguably the main character of the book, and the past comes back to haunt ... with a vengeance.

There's a relatively small human cast for a book this size, the interrelationships between those individuals are throughly explored.

Beede and Kane are a father and son with apartments in the same house while remaining essentially estranged from each other. Beede works in the hospital laundry and is fascinated by the past.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent 28 Sep 2008
By EmmaH
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Ashford in Kent, with its mildly risible strapline `Gateway to Europe', should be very pleased with Nicola Barker, who has taken its mundane amenities and sprawling blight of industrial estates and turned it into a place of infinite and magical possibilities. Chief of which is the idea that, lurking in its deep suburban reaches, there might be a small worm-hole in time through which Darkmans makes his way to the present century. Darkmans is John Scoggins who was Edward the IV's court jester, (banished for cruel jokes against Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's queen), who seems able, at will, to inhabit the modern day bodies he comes across, but chiefly, that of poor Isidore (Dory), the tall, goodlooking German (who has a captivating wife, Elen, a chiropodist, also prey to Darkmans' cruelties). We first come across Dory riding bareback on a stolen horse in the fort-like kids playground of a graceless local dining hall named The French Connection. He has no idea how he got there. The only person who can `see' Darkmans is Fleet, the small five-year-old son of Dory and Elen.

A large cast of characters inhabit this superbly edgy, utterly captivating novel. Chiefly we are concerned with Dory's family and Beede, a 61 year-old who manages a hospital laundry, and his son Kane, who half-heartedly deals drugs, both of whom are plagued by foot problems. Though they live in the same house, Beede and Kane have a further grim disability when it comes to communication - and how this aspect of their life is resolved is one of the triumphs of this book. Kane's ex-girlfriend, Kelly Broad and her bottom-feeder family also feature large. Events pile up as Dory sets Kelly's Uncle Harvey on to mend his roof (the scaffolding arrives on time, but not much else happens) and Isidore's psychotic episodes intensify.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge 1 Oct 2007
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I must begin this virgin thread by declaring, loud and proud, that I am a big Nicola Barker fan. And having just read Darkmans, I can honestly say that it is a big Nicola Barker.

Nicola Barker writes about the south east of England - small towns and suburbia. In Darkmans, she visits Ashford in Kent - disappointingly without a single reference to the tank (try googling "Ashford Tank"). Her Ashford is a mediocre town of housing estates, modern shops and the Channel Tunnel rail link. Barker's characters, invariably, are a little eccentric and quirky, but not usually in any dangerous way. Darkmans is no exception - the principal characters are Beede and Kane, a father and son; Dory, Elen and Fleet, a family; and Kelly, Kane's ex-girlfriend. And there are also a dozen or so bit part players. The delight is that none of the characters is a stereotype. None is outstandingly rich or poor; outstandingly bright or dim. They are all ordinary folk, trying their best to play to their strengths. Of the principal characters, two really stood out - Fleet, the gauche five year old who builds models from matches and adores Michelle, the lame dog; and Kelly, a Vicky Pollard character who discovers religion.

Barker's world, as well as being eccentric, also relies on coincidence. Relationships overlap, characters play different roles for different people. In Darkmans, as the novel progresses, various characters also start to develop a close relationship with the past - specifically the time of Henry VIII's court and the building of Albi cathedral in France. This preoccupation with the past gradually takes on a more and more sinister air and starts to interfere with present day relationships.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars None
Darkmans is a brilliant book, haunting, multi-layered, subversive and elegaic. Although there are strange forces at work, the characters are superbly realised and completely... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gelpen
1.0 out of 5 stars confusing book
I could not for the life of me puzzle out what exactly happened in this book. Apparently I must write more words about the product, even though I feel that the fact I could not... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious and very annoying
Unlike many of the 1-star reviews, I actually managed to finish this monstrosity. How I found the strength, I will never know. Read more
Published 14 months ago by MacGuffin
4.0 out of 5 stars Baffled why I couldn't put it down...
So here's the thing: I'm an old fashioned girl. I like my books with a linear plot, a clear point of closure and not too many questions left unanswered. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Beca
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkmans
Seemingly chaotic sprawl of characters and situations that somehow starts to fit together. The characters are particularly strong. It's funny, too. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Dave Gilmour's cat
1.0 out of 5 stars Appalling
Darkmans is possibly the most tedious, pretentious, plotless book I have ever read. How did this ever get a publishing deal in the first place? Read more
Published 24 months ago by Mh
5.0 out of 5 stars What a trip.
This is a book filled with (mainly) unlikeable characters doing very normal things in strange ways that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2012 by Dick Johnson
3.0 out of 5 stars All authors need editors, especially talented ones
This book, for me at least, defines contemporary literary fiction as a genre. And what defines this work is a clever storyteller ambling through the world she's created, shrugging... Read more
Published on 12 Sep 2011 by B. Marshall
2.0 out of 5 stars What about a plot? A story? An editor?
I feel bad about giving a book two stars especially as this book isn't badly written per se, at least not until the last 100 pages when Barker seems as much in a hurry to get it... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2011 by Tracy Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex, puzzling, sinister
When I finished reading Darkmans, I couldn't sleep. Not because it was unsettling and sinister - although it was, almost oppressively so in places, to the point where I physically... Read more
Published on 7 April 2011 by Joanne Sheppard
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