Thursday, September 17, 2015

Clear: A Transparent Novel

On September 5, 2003, illusionist David Blaine entered a small Perspex box adjacent to London's Thames River and began starving himself. Forty-four days later, on October 19, he left the box, fifty pounds lighter. That much, at least, is clear. And the rest? The crowds? The chaos? The hype? The rage? The fights? The lust? The filth? The bullshit? The hypocrisy?

Nicola Barker fearlessly crams all that and more into this ribald and outrageous peep show of a novel, her most irreverent, caustic, up-to-the-minute work yet, laying bare the heart of our contemporary world, a world of illusion, delusion, celebrity, and hunger.

With her fresh, confident sophomore novel (after Behindlings), Barker offers a meditation on illusionist David Blaine's feat of self-starvation—44 days spent suspended in a clear box above the Thames River. Analytical narrator Adie, a prickly, literate young man who works in an office overlooking the Blaine spectacle, carefully dissects the psychology of both Blaine and the hordes of onlookers who feed him attention as he slowly starves. Meanwhile, Adie's own drama unfolds, set off by a strange encounter with Aphra, a perplexing girl with a freakish sense of smell and a fetish for vintage shoes who spends her nights on the riverbank watching Blaine sleep. As Adie's involvement with Aphra grows more complicated, his initially cynical interest in Blaine becomes more obsessive. "Perhaps... this loopy illusionist has tapped into something.... A fury. A disillusionment," Adie muses, ruminating on the vileness and beauty that Blaine's presence has brought out among Brits. Despite Adie's determined disdain for the man, the unwelcome "Hunger Artist" leads him to wonder if "Some things are beyond the reach of art. Some words are meaningful beyond understanding." Offbeat and authentic, intellectual and accessible, Barker's is an original voice. (June)
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“Barker’s weird imagination works wonders...Exceptional.” (Elle)

“The brilliance of Barker’s style is beyond question.” (Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator (A Book of the Year))

“The diversity of Barker’s imagination is stunning; her language, witty and exact.” (Daily Telegraph (London))

“An exasperating, beguiling, and occasionally damn-ner perfect piece of work [by an] infuratingly talented British author.” (Kirkus Reviews on Behindlings)

“Nicola Barker has a rare writing talent.” (Time Out (London))

“Barker’s earthy, inventive, hilarious, and wickedly satirical novel is enormously entertaining.” (Booklist)

“Her vision is unique, funny, dark, sarcastic and clever.” (Alain de Botton)

“Barker’s narrative draws us in with the disturbing, surreal touch of a latter-day Lewis Carroll.” (Sunday Times (London))

“Dazzling...She celebrates the complexity of human experience.” (London Times)

“The plot doesn’t just twist, it leaps and back-flips and does triple somersaults...” (New York Times Book Review)

Nicola Barker is one of Britain's most original and exciting literary talents. She is the author of two short-story collections: Love Your Enemies [winner of the David Higham Prize and the Macmillan Silver Pen Award] and Heading Inland [winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize]. Her previous novels are Reversed Forecast, Small Holdings, Wide Open Behindlings and Clear, the last of which was long-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize. Her work is translated into twenty languages, and in 2000, she won the IMPAC Award for Wide Open. In 2003, Nicola Barker was named a Granta Best of British Novelist. She lives in London.

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful.
3Quirky people saying clever things
By trainreader
Why am I the first person to review Nicola Barker's "Clear"? It has been prominently displayed for weeks at the Border's bookstore where I purchased it, and you would think that someone would have reviewed it on this website by now. I feel an extra responsibility to get it right. Anyway, I'm pretty confident in stating that "Clear" is not so bad, and not so great.

As a backdrop to what is basically a first person narrative stream of consciousness, we have David Blaine's stunt where he confined himself in a suspended glass tank in London, without eating anything, drinking only water, for 44 days, while London crowds looked on in fascination and disgust. Blaine, of course, is one of those new breeds of extreme magicians/performance artists, who subject themselved to unimaginable hardships, or is it all just some illusion?

In any event, Nicola Barker combines the styles of Whit Stillman (who wrote the screenplays for "Metropolitan," "Barcelona," and "Last Days of Disco"), with Jack Kerouac's classic "On the Road." What you basically have is a bunch of twenty or thirty something men and women who are far too clever, can refer to the most obscure subjects at the drop of a hat, and who listen to the coolest music imaginable. They all have quirky and sometimes androgenous names (e.g. main character and narrator Adair, his larger than life roomate Solomon, Solomon's girlfriend Jalisa, Adair's former male co-worker Hilary, and Adair's two female interests Aphra and Bly). Everyone has something quite deep to say about David Blaine, as well as other unrelated subjects, which get analyzed on an impossibly intellectual level, including (perhaps most interestingly) the western "Shane" (in its novel form). Are otherwise average middle class people who live in England so much more clever than their American counter-parts?

Nicola Barker writes in an interesting and unique voice, which didn't quite do it for me in "Clear." However, if the above sounds interesting to you, you will almost certainly enjoy the book.

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
1Really annoying (like, you know, *totally* annoying)
By rantboi
I've recently become a *huge* fan of novelist Scarlett Thomas, so I'm always on the lookout for a similar writer I might like (and Nicola Barker seemed like an *interesting* novelist, and she was also recommended by Ms. Thomas herself). What could go wrong? (Well, like *lots* of things.) Even though I did read the first page to see if it would be something I liked (I've bought some doozies before), I did not (read: did *not*) expect that the *entire* novel would be written in such an obnoxious (annoying) style (of writing).


Okay, you get the idea and my brain is starting to hurt, so just imagine how painful it would be to read something like that for 300+ pages. Thankfully, I stopped reading at page 55, flipped through the rest of the book and saw that every damn page has loads of parenthesis and italicized words, most of which aren't even necessary. Not only was the style annoying, there's not much plot here, or even interesting clever things being said as promised by all the rave reviews. Even if there was an excellent story here, I would probably not finish it because the style is so freaking distracting. And to think I was planning on reading the author's other novel, Darkmans, first. That one is over 800 pages of the same style of writing!

Anyway, I recommend interested readers read the sample provided by Amazon and see if they would like to read a whole book written like that. I also recommend going to Amazon UK for more reviews.

This was my first and last novel by this author.

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
3A "Serious Novel"--but not a fun one
By Ash
We read this novel for one of my graduate-level seminars in English literature. This is a pretty typical "serious" novel of our time: it deals with "deep" themes about moral and aesthetic uncertainty, it contains sex scenes and tons of objectionable language, and it's about smart people trying to figure out deep philosophical issues, but people end up dissatisfied or disillusioned.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: if that's your kind of book, you'll probably love this. Most of my classmates in the grad class did.

If that's not your kind of book, you won't like it. *I* didn't.

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