I’ve been staring all summer at a copy of Nicola Barker’s novel Darkmans on my desk, too intimidated by being told it’s not only her masterpiece but one of the “novels of the century” so far. Plus it’s a big book and I just haven’t mustered the energy for such a brick lately.

But last night I picked up her earlier (1995) novel Small Holdings and read it straight through, followed by half of her 1994 debut Reversed Forecast, and both are brilliant. The things I’m enjoying in Barker — the madcap assemblage of oddballs in plots crackling with momentum without overwhelming character or style — remind me of Muriel Spark, who has been my favorite novelist for the past year of so. No wonder that Ali Smith has described Barker as, “Muriel Spark on the back of a runaway horse.”

So I’ll definitely be working my way through the rest of Barker’s catalog, and reading in agreement (so far) with Benjamin Johncock’s assessment:

Barker is important because she is pushing fiction further, and in more interesting directions than anyone else in contemporary fiction. Darkmans may be, to date, her masterpiece, but in these two early novels she is way beyond warming-up to that level. These are classics in their own right.

It’s a shame — hint, hint, publishers — that only a few more recent titles are readily available in US print editions (though kudos to Open Road for at least issuing ebooks).


Give us one baa for yes, two for no
“I feel like part of the vanishing breed that thinks a writer should be read and not heard, let alone seen. I think this is because there seems so often today to be a tendency to put the person in the place of his or her work, to turn the creative artist into a performing one, to find what a writer says about writing somehow more valid, or more real, than the writing itself.”
William Gaddis — from his acceptance speech for the National Book Award in Fiction for J R , April 1976 — via Time’s Flow Stemmed

Some thoughts on THE WAY INN by Will Wiles


Will Wiles’ first novel, Care of Wooden Floors (2012),* suspended its protagonist in the tragicomic tension of occupying another man’s home, so perfectly designed to reflect the personality of its owner (a minimalist composer) that any other person trying to navigate it would be bound — like that protagonist — to chaotic misadventure. Wiles’ new novel, The Way Inn (Harper Perennial), instead takes on a space tailored to no personality, the anonymous hallways and rooms of a corporate chain hotel with locations all over the world, each meant to feel as blandly familiar and welcoming to the corporate road warrior and conference attendee as any other. As those anonymous spaces become imbued with personality, the banal revealing itself to be idiosyncratic and unpredictable, so too The Way Inn becomes a novel between or across genres: the thriller, the haunted house story, the quietly reflective contemporary novel of work.


Look at that—Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s animated version of J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip is streaming on Hulu. Here it is, featured in Hulu Summer Film School’s animation roundup.

(via othernotebooksareavailable)

Within the larger Kirishima Mountain Range, there is a smaller ridge dotted with several peaks that runs across the center of the island from Mt. Karakuni to Mt. Takachiho. The tops of these peaks rise above the forest with terrains like moonscapes—covered in scrubby plants, pebbles, and dust. Craters dot the ridge line, some dry, others filled with sparkling blue water.

“The coyotes worked in teams, taking what they needed while the subdivisions slept and the moon and stars rattled around in the sky. It took two or three of them to carry a piece of lumber; they would clamp it in their jaws, stop every so often to rest and readjust.”

OWEN: While The Dig is such a realistic book in many senses, it also felt like it was probing something more ancient, even mythological. You’ve written previous works inspired by Welsh mythology. Can you explain the role of this mythology in terms of how you write?

CYNAN: Lambing time is very physical – not least the requirement to rhythmically check the animals throughout the day and night. A few weeks in, you’re tired, fundamentally, and somewhat robotic. Which turns everything a little spacey. That, the sense you’re part of an ancient and very deep-seated process, the fact you’re alone in a shed at four in the morning – these things all combine to create a sense of strangeness. The mythological, sometimes semi-Biblical shade of the language represents that. (Again, the story set that rule).
But also, vital to creating a resounding story, there has to be more than what’s on the page. The reader should instinctively feel a sense of biggerness. That, I would say, is the territory of myth.