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3.3 out of 5 stars7
3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 2 March 2004
I came to "Behindlings" via "Five Miles From Outer Hope", which was probably a good thing. Even though "Five Miles" is equally quirky, it is easier to get to grips with. "Behindlings" throws you in at the deep end, in the middle of an off-beat narrative made even more complicated by Barker's flamboyant use of adjectives and metaphors.
When I did get into the groove, I was really happy to have made the effort, because this is word-wizardry at its best. It's totally bonkers, of course, but it doesn't try too hard, not being weird for the sake of it. Planet Barker is England, but seen through the bottle in a Smirnoff ad. Everything about a backwater south coast town is lovingly depicted - the seaside bars in their ramshackle glory, the roundabouts, the industrial no man's land, the suburban bungalows - yes, it's all there, but slightly skewered.
That's the magic of Nicola Barker's writing: it takes the everyday world and makes it astonishing. The same goes for the characters. She almost revels in their ordinariness - the hapless real estate agent, the perfumed librarian - but then makes them do strange and wonderful things.
The world she creates is so unmistakably her own, but at the same time welcoming; there is no knowing coolness or trendiness aimed at alienating or provoking for the sake of it. It's as English as a cup of tea and as weird as outer space. Actually, it feels like home.
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on 5 February 2010
I like Nicola Barker. I started with Darkmans which was billiant, then read Clear which was excellent because i knew the area she was writing about unlike Darkmans which is set in Ashford which I've only been through on the train. Behindlings is set in Canvey - never been there either and after reading this don't want to - nearest i'm going is on multimap -
her writing is unique (unless someone knows anybody else who writes like her)and some people find it annoying (my husband called it pretentious) but i love it, her characters are horrible,in Behindlings, Wesley is the sort of person you would never ever want to meet and Jo you want to smack, but I just wanted Katherine and Dewi to be happy.
However i did have problems following precisely what was happening ...i had to go back and check what I'd missed in the first chapter but as it enfolded i began to follow, rather like the characters themselves....altho i dont think i discovered what happened to the reindeer................
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on 30 January 2010
The mixed reactions to this novel are interesting- for the first 200 pages I wasn't sure whether or not I was enjoying this novel. Whilst I found Barker's prose descriptive, colourful and imaginative, I wasn't sure where it was going. A strange and charismatic man called Wesley arrives on Canvey Island pursued by a strange group of eccentrics whose main interest is in following Wesley who routinely ignores them. This premise is quite frustrating, it's not really clear what is so fascinating about Wesley or why he is followed.
Yet, once you've accepted these frustrations, the novel becomes more and more enjoyable. There are some great comic moments and the characters come to life as we learn more about Wesley's ideas.
This is not a favourite novel but I am going to read more of Barker's writing.
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on 4 June 2003
What an outstanding book!
Barker is clearly a genius. She writes such astonishing prose that constantly surprises with its leaps and bounds of imagination. Her ear for dialogue - the pauses and non-sequiturs - makes her troop of characters vivid with inner life and a wonderful weirdness. Astute, colourful, obscenely brillaint writing.
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on 13 July 2008
I'm not one of the "I paid good money for this so I'm going to grit my teeth and finish it whether I like it or not," school of readers. I have enough of the finish-your-greens mentality to persevere with an author to around the half way mark, but if she or he hasn't hooked me by then, back it goes on the shelf.

Disappointingly, Behindlings ended up between other tomes, unfinished. I had high hopes, having read other reviews praising the authors wit and energy and now, flicking through and trying to pin down the problem, I think it is a matter of style as a replacement for substance. Barker seems to be trying to position herself as a cooler, more allusive version of Tom Sharpe - the surrealist characters, the absurd situations, the occasional political overtones - but the trouble with this is that it ends up like Charlie Chaplin trying to be funny without falling over or getting a pie in his face. Overblown humour which tries for subtlety, stops being funny.

Add to this Barker's liking for italics to create meaningfulness, where a well chosen adjective would have done the work and to use the dreaded three dots...because she can't think what her character is going to say next and putting clauses in brackets (because otherwise her sentences would become far too long) and you have a style which is choppy enough to induce a case of seasickness in even hardened sailors like me.

For the record, Behindlings concerns a man called Wesley, who has, due to some earlier transgression, fed most of his fingers to an eagle owl. He is dealing with his shady past, by creating a shady future and is observed in his misdealing, by a group of followers. This bunch of misfits are thrown scraps by Wesley in the form of obscure clues which are leading them to some hinted at but never defined prize. There are other people: a wronged woman that Wesley knows, a man who is covered in sawdust, a man who walks a lot. The whole thing is set on Canvey Island and if the above sounds vague, that's because it is.

The overall effect is a little like a bad dream - not the Grand Guignol beast-in-the-cupboard variety - but the slightly queasy shouldn't-have-eaten-that-cheese type where one is condemned to walking endlessly through dim office corridors, or to having a job interview where none of the questions make sense.
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on 20 April 2011
Starts off very interestingly; some of the extra little descriptions of thoughts, actions etc. make you think this is going to be a special book. However, perhaps it was asking too much to keep that level of attention to detail going. The characterisation is poor as the characters become more and more difficult to differentiate. Near the end of the book a young girl comes into the story, but somehow she speaks just like an adult. Although unusual names are used, the characters are almost interchangeable which means that the story just does not flow.
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on 3 August 2004
If you enjoyed the dark humour of "The Three Button Trick and Other Stories", it is easy to be taken in my all the good reviews on the cover of the "Behindlings". I cannot recommend this book to you, as you will be sure to be disappointed. It is a shame that so many reviewers did not have the guts to write a single critical remark - I can only explain their enthusiasm for this book by speculating that the author bought each of them an expensive lunch.
This novel is tedious to read because the characters lack of motivation stifles plot development. The book comprises of a series of awkward or drunken interactions between characters, a bit like "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?", except without any wit or biting humour. I recommend that the author take some time to read "Games people play" to she can get some ideas about character motivation and put a bit more life into her characters.
The author hints the tone of the novel is dark and the humour black by means of setting it in the working class suburb of Canvey Island, but if she were to transpose the location to Southend, Romford or (god forbid) Brentford, you would recognise the tone of this book as being smug and middle class.
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