January 2009 - UPDATED
...click on the book image to look at the book...

Headfuck no.1...
...and Headfuck no.2 (annoying) part 1

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by Nicola Barker

It seemed to take me an absolute age to read this book. It's very ... dark indeed. It is also 838 pages long. What first attracted me to it? Well I was going through Heathrow, no through Gatwick airport and I happened to see our TM Craig Duffy putting a book into his wheelie-bag; and I do remember seeing the cover, which put me in mind of the fabulous "Beyond Black" by Hilary Mantel. Yes, the colours, which were slightly muted blue red and yellow; and lots of black and white. The cover seemed to be a subtle message aimed at anyone who had read and liked "BB", and if you haven't read it, believe me, to those who have, a message saying that between these cover is something similar would have a striking effect; well it did with me anyway.

And I think that it must be designed to be so, because yes, it does cover similar themes. Here there be a ghostie. A fucking nasty, mean, malevolent maker of mischief ghostie at that. And, here there also be regular normal people living in Kent near Ashford - the entrance to the channel tunnel. I find myself very much endeared to a number of characters created by Ms Barker. Beede middle aged wiry man of steel morals; bitterly disappointed at the rest of the humanity's failings; a good man. His son Kane amoral, immoral even; dealer in black market prescription drugs; soft "easy as a greased nipple (and pretty much as moral)"; but a man with real heart and when it comes to it compassion and a little bravery. Elen the woman they are both in love with; she's chiropodist who's beauty is marked by a livid facial birthmark, and who's arms by strange bruises. Her husband Dory; narcoleptic; Germanic, a bit pathetic but you want to help him so much. Their son Fleet; he doesn't fit in, and he sees and hears ... things. Gaffar, he is a Kurdish refugee, just trying to survive from one day to the next in xenophobic, provincial, council estate, ASBO-angry Britain. Kane's ex-GF Kelly. Her goth cousin with a mouth that ...

It goes on like this. After a while you realise how real it all seem, not like a story with a plot but like real life where things of no consequence to a 'plot' (because in real life there is no plot) do happen, and they affect our lives, and it is a very humbling experience to read it in a book. It's untidy just like real life. Oh yes and it doesn't have an ending. I mean apart from the last word being printed on the last page there is no ending as such; and I love it even more for this.

The joke, the joker, the jester, the words; the words make you laugh the book is full of puns and the etymology of words now and their middle English and French roots.

I wish I had it all ahead of me to read once more.


"If on a winter's night a traveler..."
by Italo Calvino

I know that some people rave about this book. I also know that it is hailed as I.C.'s masterpiece, at least that's what is printed on the cover of the edition I read. Now this is never a good sign for me. You see, I used to be the kind of reader who couldn't resist looking at the last page. When I look back now, I realise that at the time I must have been scared of the potential sadness a book could carry, and I didn't want to waste my emotions on characters in a story, only to be upset by an unhappy ending. It became a sort of anxiety driven psychosis which, by the age of twelve or so, I realised was a babyish habit which was completely spoiling my reading and I ought to grow out of. And grow out of it is exactly what I did, in a more or less reactionary manner in fact - to the extent that now I cannot bear to see the blurbs and reviews that are often printed on the back of the dust jacket, or the cover of a book if it's a paperback. I mean, I really don't want to know what the story is before I've got there in the actual work. I really don't want to know if 'So and so, ex doodah of the whatchamacallit brigade, has a close death experio, which leads him to a life altering epiphany, and the reader ultimately to question the meaning of ... blah blah blah'.

And, I really don't want somebody else's idea of what the book is about to influence my appreciation of the work.

And I will go to extreme lengths in order to achieve this. Usually, a short book doesn't hold anything like the temptation to make me look because it is a temptation which grows the longer you've been reading a book. Longer works are more difficult. There have been times when, on getting about half way through a book, I've thought to myself - well I know all the characters and what's happening, so what difference will it make if I turn it over and read the back - only to find out that there is some bloody amazing unexpected twist approaching, one that up until that point I hadn't even imagined. Well, after that the book's ruined because I can't stop trying to work out what is going to happen next, and when it does come, either I've already figured it out, or it's just not as good as it's cracked up to be. So I have learned ... always leave the book front cover up. Oh and here's a good one: with hardbacks you can turn the dust jacket inside out, this also helps (because the inside is a sunshine reflective white) in the prevention of spinal glue melt when engaging in outdoor supine summer reading ... I'm talking about pages falling out. Anyway, printing "His Masterpiece" on the front of the book pretty much guarantees to my mind that this will not, in fact, be the case.

And if you want to spoil your own experience of reading Italo Calvino's masterpiece "If on a winter's night a traveler..." you can read part 2 of this review when I've written it.

I know ... annoying isn't it!