Reading Nicola Barker’s novels is like …. Finding a piquant slice of dill pickle in a bland potato salad. Like assuming all car factories produce only white sedans (if you live in South Africa, you might well think so) and then a screaming- red- flamenco -red- fire- engine- red sports models roars past: HELLO! IT’S GOTTA BE NICOLA BARKER.
My previous recent read was another novella by a very popular, well-known author, who shall remain anonymous. I finished the story, yawned, and thought: oh for %^*’s sake: another boring, solipsistic, American family story. Boooorrriiiinnng . And then I did myself a huge favour and picked up Nicola Barker’s novella.
And my capital letters are an homage to her novella I AM SOVEREIGN. She has heaps of fun playing around with the typeface. AMERICAN TYPEFACE in particular, which MS Word doesn’t offer. She has more fun with fonts ranging from huge to teeny tiny less than oh, I don’t know, 4 pt? In case you are shaking your head, take a look at the following pic from I Am Sovereign.
Hey! Shoo! Wow! etc. The four protagonists, five, if you count the Sudanese man who NB cuts out of the narrative and tells you why, to which he peevishly responds in italics; where was I ? oh yes: the entire action takes place during a house for sale viewing, over a period of twenty minutes. During which time we engage with Kabbalistic mysticism, a dictatorial self-help guru, a teddy bear maker, a Chinese wheeler dealer and her cowed daughter-translator. Towards the end of the novella, Nicola has some introspective chats with us, (the readers) about writing the novella, and about her recent trip to Normandy in France.
She also inserts periodical rants about the infuriating Auto-Correct feature of her word-processing programme that continuously changes the name of the Sudanese man – probably the main reason she excised him from the story. Both she and her copy editor are driven mad by this. We can empathise with her frustration, can’t we? Don’t even get me started on Auto Correct on WhatsApp.
So: Nicola Barker is endlessly inventive, that’s one of the joys of her work – she doesn’t churn out repetitive books, as do so many popular authors – see my grumble above.
I suppose she’s avant garde. Actually, I don’t care what she is or isn’t labelled, all I know is her books are fresh, invigorating, and hugely enjoyable. Thus far I’ve read The Cauliflower (historical and much more serious), Five Miles from Outer Hope (hilarious) and now I am Sovereign.
I can’t wait to read more!