Unshutuppable

James Lever

  • Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker
    Fourth Estate, 361 pp, £18.99, April 2010, ISBN 978 0 00 735500 6

How did Nicola Barker end up choosing Burley Cross in West Yorkshire – ‘a tiny, ridiculously affluent, ludicrously puffed-up moorside village stuffed to capacity with spoilt second-home owners, Southerners, the “artistic”’ – as the setting for her new novel? After two collections of droll Angela-Carterish short stories and two brisk, borderline surreal novels, Reversed Forecast (1994) and Small Holdings (1995), came Wide Open (1998), the story of a twinned pair of damaged men, in which she loosened the prose, broadened the scope and heightened the feeling. It’s a book which protectively nurses its wounded protagonists along while snarling at the comfortable or the insufficiently harrowed reader:

Laura had imagined herself to be in love with Nathan … Truly in love. A dizzy, silly, confusing, confounding love … Love. Secret and hairy and cinnamon-flavoured. A hot sharp-shooting sherbert love. A mishy-mushy, hishy-hushy, splishy-sploshy kind of love. But the love had been unreciprocated … and left behind in its stead were only suds and offal and litter and a nasty, dirty bath ring which encircled Laura’s heart and made all her deepest, sweetest sensations of yesteryear seem like something empty and ugly and pathetic.

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