Nicola Barker: From cult novelist to Man Booker favourite

After years as a cult novelist, Nicola Barker is tipped to win the Man Booker Prize for ‘The Yips’. She talks to Alex Clark about her love of golf – and why critics of the Olympic opening ceremony are wrong.
Nicola Barker, author of The Yips
Nicola Barker, author of The Yips Photo: Eamonn McCabe
Nicola Barker, whose ninth novel, The Yips, has just been longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, is considering what kind of impact her work might have on a reader encountering her for the very first time. The reader she has in mind – she has imagined, for the purpose, a new neighbour – is someone who might have asked her, in casual conversation, what she does for a living and has, therefore, absolutely no preconceptions. A scenario, in other words, that would thrill most writers.
Barker sees it slightly differently. “You think, ple-ease don’t go and buy one of my books. Please don’t.” But what on earth would make her say that? She laughs. “It’s the embarrassing content, the sex scenes, the genital tattoos, the bad language. It is at the extreme end, isn’t it?”
Let us be absolutely truthful: extreme is not an inaccurate word to describe Barker’s fiction, and not simply because of the genital tattooing (only, if memory serves, a feature of this novel). Each of them – from the hugely complex Darkmans, which was shortlisted for the Booker in 2007, to more compact works such as Clear, her take on David Blaine’s time spent suspended next to the Thames in a glass box – are breathtaking feats of imagination; they immerse the reader in a world that Barker has thrown slightly off-kilter and filled with the kind of people one might normally cross the road to avoid.
Even the novel that preceded The Yips, the delightfully whimsical Burley Cross Postbox Theft, a jeu d’esprit based on the correspondence of an affluent Yorkshire village, included the story of an elderly man’s war with a neighbour given to stockpiling bags of dog excrement.
There is a danger to Barker’s fiction, what she calls an “insane vitality” that she’s wary of imposing on the unsuspecting. Or, as she also puts it, during the brilliantly entertaining couple of hours we spend in a pub near her home in London’s Docklands: “It’s like liking a particular kind of really pungent cheese. You’re not going to want that on toast, are you?”
The rest at The Telegraph

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