Nicola Barker - Darkmans

Darkmans - Nicola Barker

Anytime I see a book this size I think: "What was that you had to say that you needed more than 800 pages to do it?". And I am intrigued, because, surely, it must be something magnificent to justify the magnificent size. On the other hand I know that I suffer from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and if I started this book I would just have to finish it no matter what. There is a possibility it could be 800 pages of blabbering, or worse yet, 800 pages of impenetrable ontological debates.

Luckily, you can just skate through 'Darkmans' and it is not all total blabbering.

I suppose I should tell you what it is actually about, although explaining it will not be easy.

'Darkmans' is about a group of characters living in Ashford, including some chavs, hospital employees, construction workers, drug dealers... basically, the sort of group that many British writers who set their books in small drab English towns write about. Now, the twist here is that all these characters (with the special mention of Isidore, German security guard) seem to be invaded by a ghost of Middle Ages in the form of John Scogin, wicked medieval jester. He muddles their minds, gets them confused, and makes them speak pre-Shakespeare English.

The scope of this book is impressive; the research, the linguistic finesse is quite something. Of course, you will be tempted to hope that everything will neatly come together in the end but it is a foolish hope. As one of the character says (and I can't give you the exact quote, because stupidly I have returned the book to the library - it was about 5 years overdue) we fool ourselves to believe that things happen for a reason, that there is some sort of grand design behind it all. No, only in art, apparently. Now, whether this book calls itself art or whether it tries to imitate real life is for you to decide. 

That is not to say, that it leaves nothing but loose ends. It is indeed very clever. In the end, it's Barker's book and you have to play by her rules. If you are ok with that, you are rewarded with a brilliant, epic read. Someone said 'unhinged'. Yes but in the best possible sense.

 This book kicks ass.