It was nearly two months ago that my book club decided to read Nicola Barker's Darkmans, a story so strange that it has captivated me for over 600 pages. (I still have another 200 to go.) When Sylvia Brownrigg reviewed the book for the NY Times, she stated that "to suggest that this dazzling, complex novel has anything quite as conventional as a plot would be misleading."
As I near the end, I find myself continuously trying to create a plot out of the insane happenstance that drives the novel. On more than one occasion, I have thought that Nicola Barker must have manipulated the story to be able to use an idea for a character or a situation that she just loved. And even though there's plenty of nonsense, loose ends that refuse to be tied up, and a complete resistance to the structure I've been taught since grade school, I have loved reading this book.
It seems that one of the attractions of a book is the ability to hold in the plam of your hand a tidy, complete story where everything makes sense. Everything happens for a reason, everyone has motives that are initally clear or become clear over time, and frequently nothing insignificant happens. But Barker absolutely refuses to follow any of these rules.
On a brief hiatus from the novel, I picked up a Granta's Best Young British Novelists from 1993. Barker had a short story called "The Balance" in the issue. The story also broke all rules for structure and plot, but for me the story didn't work. It was confusing and oddly self-aware, and in the end, I didn't enjoy reading it.
Darkmans, on the other hand, works without fail. While there have been points that I have wondered "what the hell is going on here" or "where is Barker taking me," I have completely enjoyed reading it. Her characters are complicated and funny, and they drive the novel, even if you have no idea where you're going.
For more information:
Interview in which Nicola Barker says she doesn't think she would want to read her own books
Barker on being nominated for the Man Booker Prize for Darkmans