In The Approaches


You could say I’m into books.

I read them, y’know, a lot. I keep my ear out for authors and fiction to watch. I know roughly what’s going down with the big prizes. And yet, and yet. I still seem to be totally ignorant of the authors I “should” know about. I confess, I confess: I am a mere pretender.

I know this because I’d never even heard of Nicola Barker, even though In The Approaches is her tenth book and she is apparently of some note to the literary establishment. I heard she’d been cruelly overlooked for the Booker longlist, so I thought I’d investigate.

Booker judges, relax. You did not overlook her!

Put simply, this book is a pain. Irritating characters, heavy-handed post-modern authorial intervention (one character talking to the author, critiquing her choice of words), a talking parrot for no damn good reason, and to cap it all, a contrived and lengthily spun out plot featuring the least compelling and believable romance I’ve ever read. There is slight redemption at the end where it actually says something rather than niggling around with the endlessly circling monologues of its irritating characters, but it is a boring old slog for most of the time. The post-modern element feels at least like it might be worthy of interest – at one point a character starts losing text out of his nose – but it is left, flapping idly in the breeze, like any other elements of promise in the book (and there aren’t even many of them). The super-natural element is just another example of the same thing, as are the weightier topical events that are gestured to but never explored. The whole book is splashing around in the tepid shallows while pointing wildly to the waves, claiming false kindship.

All combines – or doesn’t – to create a book I genuinely considered stopping half way through. And you know, I should have. Dreadful! Don’t read.


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