by Nicola Barker
As we near the announcement of 2012's Man Booker shortlist, it is high time to catch up with some titles on the longlist. Having already covered Hilary Mantel's excellent
Bring Up the Bodies, I'll start with another British woman writer: the weird and wonderful Nicola Barker, who made the 2007 shortlist with
Darkmans. She is back with the equally challenging, but enjoyable,
The Yips. The title, and indeed some of the action, derives from golf: the mother of the main protagonist, Valentine, is incapacitated by a golf ball which has been horribly shanked by the appalling Stuart Ransom. It is an eccentric if characteristic sport that inspires a typically Barker-esque narrative structure. The story's elliptical, fragmentary nature takes some getting used to, flitting from one person or place to another, often with little warning. Barker uses strange punctuation, parenthetical asides and gloriously inappropriate bawdiness. Whether they result from Ransom's Tourette's-like mouth, or the fragile mental condition of Valentine's mother, Barker is fascinated by odd stories and strange linguistic contortions.
The Yips isn't for everyone - but then, the most interesting books never are.