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Follow you, follow me
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.