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NICOLA BARKER is perhaps the most gifted young English female writer at work today. Wesley, perhaps the most gifted young English male character at work today, first made his debut in Nicola's story collection Heading Inland, in 1996. Her other published story collections are Love Your Enemies (1992), Small Holdings (1995) and Five Miles from Outer Hope (2000). Her previous novels are Reversed Forecast (1994) and Wide Open (1998). Her work is translated into more than a dozen languages. In 2000, she won the English-speaking world's largest prize for a single work of fiction, the IMPAC Award, for Wide Open.


In Barker's latest twisted world of supreme weirdness, Wesley is king of all things bizarre. Cruel, calculating, and utterly without social conscience, Wesley walks Canvey Island trailed by a growing band of wretched Followers, known as the Behindlings. They track his movements on a web site, studying his every cold nuance for meaning and intent. Their interest is two-fold: they are seeking clues to a contest called the Loiter, hoping to snag a big prize, and they also want to get to the bottom of an expose-written by Wesley himself-of Canvey's most notorious citizen, whose freakish behavior nearly matches Wesley's. Getting to the bottom of all the secrets in this claustrophobically ugly tale is a lot of work. More than 500 pages of Barker's stylistic, literary stuttering-parenthetical asides and endless unfinished thoughts set off by ellipses, dashes, and italics-make for a tiresome, confusing read. Disgusting details abound: human fingers fed to an owl; dirty, uncut toenails; even a masturbating ferret. The award-winning Barker (Wide Open) fills a need for fans of atmospherically grimy tales inhabited by uniformly unpleasant souls-though this could also be used as a cautionary tale for celebrity addicts. For larger libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/02.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

'Marvellously inventive, a cornucopia of cornucopias all the way to its brilliant non-ending - its refusal to end. It is a new kind of book, and an intense kind of joy.' Ali Smith, TLS 'Compelling. Barker's narrative draws us in with the disturbing, surreal touch of a latter-day Lewis Carroll.' Michelene Wandor, Sunday Times 'Dazzling... She celebrates the complexity of human experience.' Frank Egerton, The Times '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.' Alex Clark, Guardian 'Fucked up, fucked off and totally, weirdly brilliant.' Eithne Farry, Elle 'Extraordinary. Full of deadpan wit, black comedy and visual slapstick., the novel delights most through its imaginative extravagances.' Katie Owen, Sunday Telegraph 'An intriguing satire on the nature of celebrity and the current confused state of our culture. Playful, dark, comic and cruel.' Kath Murphy, Scotland on Sunday 'Behindlings is an exquisite diversion and, more importantly, a true original.' Arena

Wesley is not, on the outside, the most prepossessing of men. He is a tramp with a mangled hand, a penchant for attacking sea-fowl and an admiration for the profundities of Alvin Toffler. However, he has a magnetic effect on people. As he pads about the English countryside, he is followed by a diverse collection of groupies as fascinated with his every gesture as primatologists studying the habits of a mountain gorilla. A candy company is behind part of the fascination: they have loosely pegged a treasure hunt, with clues in candy wrappers, to Wesley's habits and quirks. As the novel begins, Wesley has come to the seaside town of Canvey and exerts his peculiar powers of suggestion on a real estate agent, Ted, who finds him lodgings with the town's most scandalous citizen, Katherine Turpin. The Behindlings (as Wesley has denominated his followers) have also, predictably, convened on the spot. Dramatic action, such as it is, revolves around the revelation of the truth about the rumor that Katherine committed incest with her father and aborted his child. While Barker, an idiosyncratic English writer popular in the U.K. (The Three Button Trick and Other Stories; Wide Open), contrives a few clever phrases (at one point, she compares one character's relief at being left alone by his blowhard boss to the "blissful fervor which a ninety year old man might exhibit on discovering-after many years of drought-a small but sweetly intrepid erection floating daintily in the tired suds of a hot bath"), this novel suffers from a general anemia of character and plot. (Jan. 1) Forecast: Ecco continues to champion Barker and hope for a breakthrough in the U.S. This latest novel may not do the trick, but its imaginative premise should help raise her profile a little. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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