How did Nicola Barker end up choosing Burley Cross in West Yorkshire - 'a tiny, ridiculously affluent, ludicrously puffed-up moorside village stuffed to capacity with spoilt second-home owners, Southerners, the "artistic"' - as the setting for her new novel? After two collections of droll Angela-Carterish short stories and two brisk, borderline surreal novels, Reversed Forecast (1994) and Small Holdings (1995), came Wide Open (1998), the story of a twinned pair of damaged men, in which she loosened the prose, broadened the scope and heightened the feeling. It's a book which protectively nurses its wounded protagonists along while snarling at the comfortable or the insufficiently harrowed reader:
Laura had imagined herself to be in love with Nathan ... Truly in love. A dizzy, silly, confusing, confounding love ... Love. Secret and hairy and cinnamon-flavoured. A hot sharp-shooting sherbert love. A mishy-mushy, hishy-hushy, splishy-sploshy kind of love. But the love had been unreciprocated ... and left behind in its stead were only suds and offal and litter and a nasty, dirty bath ring which encircled Laura's heart and made all her deepest, sweetest sensations of yesteryear seem like something empty and ugly and pathetic.
LRB 9 September 2010 | PDF Download