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Barker, Nicola

Entry updated 27 September 2019. Tagged: Author.

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(1966-    ) UK author, almost exclusively of tales set in the South-East of England, featuring characters who fit all too well into suburban subtopias, except for their tendency to commit mild verbal and physical mayhem on their surroundings. The mundanity of this world normally, in her work, seems shaky but does not normally spill over into the fantastic, though In the Approaches (2014) is partly narrated by a parrot, and The Cauliflower® (2016) fantasticates the life of a guru who is believed by some to possess supernatural powers.

An exception of some sf interest is her seventh novel, Darkmans (2007), a large and ambitious Timeslip tale set in Ashford, Kent, "Gateway to Europe", whose inhabitants are increasingly oppressed by sinister and increasingly real apparitions of the eponymous lurker. Darkmans is the name taken by John Scoggins, Edward IV's court jester, for his contemporary acts of intrusion and literal possession, his stirring of a world inherently unstable, subject to fits of accurate (but untimely) Prediction on those he infects. The tale is extremely funny, and exorbitant, but as a rendering of the Matter of Britain in the twenty-first century [for Matter and Talking Animals see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] it can be read as Satire with a grave burden. This linguistically-foregrounded tensile gap between surface and implication is perhaps even more strongly executed in H(a)ppy (2017), which begins as a distant Near FutureDystopia on familiar lines, with a population regulated by intense surveillance, clocked by monitory changes in the literal typography of the book (which is narrated by its protagonist) whenever she voices loaded or verboten words or topics, history itself being seen as toxic; Music, specifically the guitar compositions and performances of Augustín Barrios (1885-1944), opens doors into subversive emotional complexities. I Am Sovereign (2019) is a crisp metafiction with no overt fantastic content beyond some surreal moments. [JC]

Nicola Barker

born Ely, Cambridgeshire: 30 March 1966

works (highly selected)



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