Clear: A Transparent Novel Paperback – 27 Oct 2011
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‘Compelling. Barker's narrative draws us in with the disturbing, surreal touch of a latter-day Lewis Carroll' Sunday Times
'Barker's eccentrics are the stuff of pure farce. And they allow her to reinvent, joyously, the cogs, gears and mechanics of the genre. She knows, as Wodehouse also knew, how to rev up the language, do baroque variations on a phrase, even break into a kind of poetry’ New York Times
'Dazzling… She celebrates the complexity of human experience’ The Times
‘Nicola Barker's linguistic exuberance got me hooked … Like an angel dancing on the head of a pin, she takes a brief event in the crowded capital and uses it to whoop and whirl … impressive, smart, funny, fast' Observer
'Insanely inventive. Her vision of a marginal Britain populated by drifters and desperados is fired by a comic energy that dances on the edge of self-combustion' Guardian
About the Author
Nicola Barker was born in Ely in 1966 and spent part of her childhood in South Africa. She lives and works in east London. She was the winner of the David Higham Prize for Fiction and joint winner of the Macmillan Silver Pen Award for Love Your Enemies, her first collection of stories (1993). Her first novel Reversed Forecast was published in 1994 and a short novel Small Holdings followed in 1995. A second collection of short stories Heading Inland, for which Nicola received an Arts Council Writers’ Award, and received the 1997 John Llewellyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday Prize. Her story ‘Symbiosis’ was filmed and broadcast on BBC2; another story, ‘Dual Balls’, was commissioned for broadcast on Channel 4 and shortlisted for a BAFTA Award. Her third novel Wide Open was published in 1998, and won the English-speaking world’s biggest literary award for a single work, the IMPAC Prize. In 2000 she published another short novel, Five Miles from Outer Hope. Her fifth novel, Behindlings, was published in 2002 and the following novel, Clear, was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004. Darkmans, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2007, the 2008 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Award and won the Hawthornden Prize for 2008. Most recently, Barker's work THE YIPS has been longlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2012. She was named as one of the 20 Best Young British Novelists by Granta in 2005. Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book's main theme is that even when we think we are seeing, our perceptions of appearances are deceiving us.
What can be more transparent than an illusionist, David Blaine, who sits suspended in a Perspex box above the Thames while he fasts for 44 days? That central image becomes the fulcrum for this insightful, witty novel about modern conceits.
You soon get a hint that the book is in part about writing when the narrator, Adair Graham MacKenny, opens the narration with ribald praise for the language in Jack Schaefer's Shane. Later, Blaine's very illusion is discussed in terms of a Kafka story. Unlike snobbish novelists, Ms. Barker shares everything you need to know to share her point.
As the story develops, you find yourself in the middle of an enigma wrapped in several mysteries, one Aphra by name, who sits every night watching Blaine in the wee hours while others sleep, who keeps dozens of containers of gourmet food which alternative with regurgitated remnants of such food, and wears outrageous shoes. Aphra's shoe fetish nicely matches Adair's foot fetish, and Adair finds himself in enraptured pursuit. As the mysteries about Aphra are gradually resolved, you begin to appreciate Ms. Barker's point about not knowing what we are seeing. In one powerful passage on page 311, she reveals all in describing Blaine's magic:
"He's like a mirror in which people can see the very best and the very worst of themselves."
Clear goes on to make the point that we all use other people in the same way. It's clear!
The central construct is the contrast between a man who can eat but chooses not to (David Blaine) and a man who wants to eat but can not. This is played out not by looking at the two men directly, but by looking at two spectators to their lives - both oddball and both dysfunctional - and ultimately both closely intertwined. The backdrop of the David Blaine stunt and the bizarre mix of people drawn to it is a very accurate depiction - but perhaps you had to be a witness to the stunt (as I was) in order to appreciate this.
The book has a leitmotif of deep over-analysis of the Blaine stunt and Blaine as a mystical guru. The two spectators goad each other on in their analysis, both believeing it will impress the other. The result - deep and believing analysis of a magic trick and a stage conjourer - is very, very droll. I suspect, though, that it would appeal only to people who have a healthy cynicism concerning Mr Blaine's supernatural powers.
I am sorry to have seen so many reviews of this book claiming it was written in a hurry. I did not find it felt rushed - if anything, it was well crafted and carefully balanced. I'm not sure, anyway, how you would tell that a book had been written in a hurry.
This novel inspired me to buy Nicola Barker's back catalogue, which I am in the process of reading. It is a very impressive back catalogue indeed and the short stories, in particular, are very well crafted. Pure, understated brilliance.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
"Another of Nicola Barker's amazing novels which just capture the ways and words of her characters so clearly. Read morePublished on 18 May 2008 by Annabel Gaskell
There can't be that many novels that have stellar reviews from both the Times Literary Supplement and Heat Magazine, but Clear by Nicola Barker is just such a one. Read morePublished on 25 Mar. 2008 by Kirsty D
The first 25 pages of this book made me think that it was going to be one of those "hey, look at me", barely readable, tricksy, oddly-structured stabs at "modern literature"... Read morePublished on 30 Aug. 2005 by G. L. Haggett