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Darkmans (Thames Gateway, #3)
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(Thames Gateway #3)

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,982 ratings  ·  272 reviews
If history is just a sick joke, then who exactly is telling it and why? Could it be John Scogin, Edward IV's court jester, whose favourite pastime was to burn people alive? Or is it Andrew Boarde, Henry VIII's physician, who kindly wrote Scogin's biography? This is a modern tale about two familiar subjects - love and jealousy.
Hardcover, 838 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Fourth Estate (GB) (first published January 1st 2007)
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Elros No characters or plot lines run between the books. It is more of a series in the sense of similar themes and locations/settings. So you don't have to…moreNo characters or plot lines run between the books. It is more of a series in the sense of similar themes and locations/settings. So you don't have to read any of the others.(less)

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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  1,982 ratings  ·  272 reviews

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Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was stunned. I was bored. I laughed. I sighed. I was disturbed. I was elated. I couldn't put it down. I dreaded having to pick it up. I chortled. I grunted. I embraced this tome's rogue's gallery. I was exasperated by them. I was moved. I was impatient. I was apprehensive. I was excited. I felt stirrings. I lengthened and shortened. I smiled. I frowned. I snorted. I rolled my eyes. I dug for nuggets. I backslid. I was propelled by its ebullience. I held my breath. I farted. I zoned right in. I ...more
Paul Bryant
Jan 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
Such a great cover, too.

This is what Nicola Barker does. Here she's talking about what her character Elen does. She's a chiropodist.:

On a good day she was a Superman or a Wonderwoman,
doggedly fighting foot-crime and the causes of foot-crime (usually - when all was finally said and done - the ill-fitting shoe . . . Okay, so it was hardly The Riddler, or The Penguin, but in a serious head-to-head between a violent encounter with either one of these two comic-book baddies and an eight-hour,
MJ Nicholls
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I want to review Darkmans but I should be researching UK agents so I can submit my own novel to snotty Islington ministers’ daughters—the sort who fall down drooling at The Kite Runner or some such oxplop—in the hope that one day I can write a tongue-in-cheek five-star review of my own novel on Goodreads then re-post a series of self-promoting updates every four minutes for everyone to ignore, then fight off a caustically withering slapdown from Mr. Bryant with four pages of unpunctuated ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, kent
A strange book, which can be funny, moving, thought-provoking – as well as frustrating. But then it is set in Ashford, which is all of those things and less. The plot is hard to summarise, although as a reader you'll probably be more preoccupied with unpicking the Byzantine web of connections which links the cast. The nearest thing to a central character is Kane, a layabout and amiable drug-dealer; he has a strained relationship with his father Beede, who works at the local hospital. Both of ...more
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Anytime I see a book this size I think: "What was that you had to say that you needed more than 800 pages to do it?". And I am intrigued, because, surely, it must be something magnificent to justify the magnificent size. On the other hand I know that I suffer from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and if I started this book I would just have to finish it no matter what. There is a possibility it could be 800 pages of blabbering, or worse yet, 800 pages of impenetrable ontological debates.

Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is going to sound strange, because I imagine most people would think the opposite, but I think if Darkmans were 500 pages shorter (aka the length of a normal book), I would very likely have hated it. The style is maddening in several ways:

1) Barker has a tendency to over-italicize. I know this because I worry that I italicize too much, and if someone else's italics are bothering me, it must be a serious problem. I'm not kidding; Darkmans is like that old newspaper comic Brenda Starr*, where
Feb 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Wtf...seriously, wtf did I just read? That surely was the strangest book I've ever read. It took a while to get into it...I probably wouldn't have kept reading if this weren't a selection for my book club. About halfway through I finally started enjoying it. There were a few parts that were so funny I actually laughed out loud. The writing style is unusual. It was sometimes a bit annoying, but for the most part it worked. An unfortunate side effect is that now I occasionally find myself thinking ...more
Feb 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People with a lot of patience
Darkmans is funny and interesting, though it doesn't become either until almost 300 pages into the 800+ page story. Barker's style of writing (which gives the grammar lover in me nightmares), is tough to follow until she tones it down a little and really lets the narrative take over. At that point, I was able to stop lamenting all the commas that could have been and start really paying attention to the story.

When I finished the book, though, I sat back and thought, "Hmm. Didn't know how to tie
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful book with which to begin the new year. "Darkmans" has been on my radar ever since the book's cover caught my eye four years ago (that tongue-wagging devil is creepy). The book's heft and weirdness intimidated me at first, and I filed it away in my mind as a "get to when it's time" book.

This year, it was time--and what a time I had with this book! The story, though small in actual scale, is peppered with so many warrens and boltholes and caches that captured me without warning
Mar 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awards-or-prizes
Is there a first time for everything? This is the first time I've ever given up on a book halfway through. At first I thought she was being quirky and setting the scene, but I read up to page 405 and nothing had happened yet, the characters were neither interesting nor likeable, and her style of writing is unbelievably irritating - with sentences half-written, full of utterly meaningless interjections like "huh?", "eh?" "what?", "what?", "but...", "right...", "No!", "NO!!", and repeating ...more
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People interested in postmodern experimental fiction
It's about as challenging to describe Nicola Barker's writing style as it is to read it but picture Thomas Pynchon's twisty and chaotic words with an unreliable narrator in terms of depicting the true reality of every moment crossed with a bit of Flannery O'Connor and you'll have something close. Her vocabulary in and of itself is like a dense road to travel on but it's filled with some glorious wit and cultural references too, for those of us who enjoy sightseeing.

I don't use this term lightly
Leo Robertson
Unbelievably bad. Unreadably bad. At first I thought it had the same problem as Stephen King's IT, that the story was in there somewhere but I couldn't find it, but worse, there's seriously no story. So irritatingly written. Each page peppered with italics and -ings and -lys and parentheses of spurious details and weird Germanic bold text (not used for any apparently different reason from all those italics) and telling-over-showing and crazy speech tags followed by lengthy adverbial phrases and ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this through once, then immediately started over. It's the sort of book that takes a couple of readings to see its shape--like that low-budget sci-fi film Primer. I think Nicola Barker is one of the best contemporary writers--not least because she challenges herself with each book. This is nothing like her previous novels, but it is equally brilliant.
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Reading a Nicola Barker book is the closest thing I can imagine to being Alice, and falling down the rabbit hole. Her stories are unlike anything I've ever read before and I've collected everything she has ever written.

Currently I'm reading Wide Open and it does not disappoint. Take a neat little story, add a ton of strange and interesting characters and the occasional "out of the blue" creepy critter. Throw all the bits in the air and then read them where they land.

In the hands and mind of
Jun 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
From the Guardian's review:

It is also very, very funny. Kelly's monstrous mother is "Jabba the Hut with a womb, chronic asthma and a council flat". Kelly herself protests to Gaffar that she's never done drugs, "apart from the odd bit of puff an' speed an' E, obviously". And Kane informs us, quite casually, "one irreducible fact is that people who climb mountains are invariably cunts".

Ha... ha?
Carla Krueger
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, contemporary
What really surprised me when I finished this book is the lack of emotion I felt. I've read books where I've been elated at the ending, or in tears as the last page turns, or even angry for whatever reason, but with this, the best I could muster was an overwhelming sense of time wasted on something that could have been so much better, with so much potential, but just didn't really pull together in the end. As a fiction writer myself, I appreciate hard work when I see it and there is no question ...more
Oct 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Were it not hyperbolic to say so, I would call this the best book I've ever read. It sounds ridiculous even qualified like that.

A father and son, Beede and Kane, are the center of the book; they live in the town on the English side of the Chunnel. Beede manages a hospital laundry but is also fascinated by jesters of the middle ages and gets around on an ancient motorcycle. Kane deals prescription painkillers and antidepressants to what seems like most of the women in the town. They are both in
May 24, 2014 rated it liked it
This a 'killing book'... just like Paul Atreides in Dune had a killing name, well this is the literary equivalent. It is 838 pages long and in the hands of a trained reader could be used as a tool of assassination. Apart from it's major length it is a work of sufficient scale to allow me to say it is a book with a breadth of scope and imagination that many books will never approach. This a modern book (set in present dayish Kent, England) but it has strains of mediaeval England and micro scale ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a shot in the dark I took, never having heard of the book or the author, and I scored. The writing of this book isn't the kind of thing I usually go for, stream of consciousness, sound effects, etc., and there were way more pop culture references than I normally tolerate, but in the end, this book reminds me of a really simplified Thomas Pynchon, meant as a compliment. I knew by about page 5 or 6 hundred that when the book ended at page 838 I wasn't going to understand everything that ...more
Eva Mitnick
Feb 10, 2009 rated it liked it
This was an intriguing but ultimately baffling book. A small group of disparate but interconnected people in a small town in England all seem, to varying degrees, to be obsessed or even possessed by the medieval past, and in particular a jester named John Scogin (presumably the "Darkmans" of the title). This part of the book is puzzling and spooky/weird and even unnecessary, as these folks are interesting enough without the supernatural/psychological weirdness. It took a while to get used to the ...more
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bought-new, keeper
After reading too many disposable novels I was desperate for something to sink my teeth into. Well, for a week, I neglected my children, ignored my e-mails, forgot my husband and literally curled up with this. Even on the rare occasions I wasn't reading it (one must periodically eat, sleep and wash) I was thinking about it. In fact, it felt like it was alive in my head, which wasn't altogether a pleasant sensation - found myself doubting my sanity sometimes. It was a rare beast: bizarre but not ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Puzzling. It's excellent in a way that does not inspire you to go to proselytize about for others to read. It doesn't need a champion. The book will not leave you.
Aug 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Tarantino fans
I'm 100 pages in and struggling. Nothing's coming together for me yet. Hopefully it won't ramble for the remaining 738 pages.

350 pages in and enjoying MUCH more. Very funny book.

Whew!! What a ride. This book reminded me very much of a Tarantino movie in that some of the situations are absolutely off the wall (the pillory scene, for example), it's fast-paced and you just have to go with it. I'm sure there are many levels on which you could take this book and it would take another couple of reads
Malini Sridharan
Sep 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bestever
I think that every book that both Josie and I both give five stars to should go in a special list of guaranteed crowd pleasers.

The juxtaposition of this thoroughly modern setting and the force of history bubbling underneath it was fantastic.
Joe Upshaw
Dec 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
I truly hated this book and could not force myself to finish it although I was at the beach with no convenient way to find something else to read. I am perplexed that anyone could have enjoyed this.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
One of the strangest, if not best, novels ever written.
Jun 29, 2017 is currently reading it
Started this book yesterday and already read over a hundred pages. It is weird and I have a feeling it will get a LOT weirder yet.
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book
When the Booker Prize longlist came out I ordered a couple of the 13 books from the library. I didn't really look very deeply into the details of the books, in fact I pretty much ordered them blind hoping that being on the longlist would be enough to give me something interesting to read.

I didn't bargain on the first book that turned up being an over 800 page doorstep. (No, not a doorstop, I do think you could use this as a doorstep!)

My first impressions weren't great and I struggled through
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well, where to begin? I was already a fan of Nicola Barker (apart from the atrocious Burley Cross Postbox Theft), and I finally read this book five years after it was first published.

First of all, I was horrified to find a novel set in a sanserif typeface, even if it is the elegant, modernist Frutiger. It’s an accepted typographic rule that novels need serifs! However, the necessity of this typographic rule is entirely disproved by this book, as the lack of serifs did not hinder my reading at
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Nicola Barker is an English writer.
Nicola Barker’s eight previous novels include Darkmans (short-listed for the 2007 Man Booker and Ondaatje prizes, and winner of the Hawthornden Prize), Wide Open (winner of the 2000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), and Clear (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in

Other books in the series

Thames Gateway (3 books)
  • Wide Open (Thames Gateway, #1)
  • Behindlings (Thames Gateway, #2)
“You think it's all rather too "New Age" to be taken seriously, eh?'
'Not at all.'
'But it's an ancient discipline...'
'New Age disciplines invariably are,' Beede said, disparagingly, 'but in the modern world they lack context - we just pick them up and then toss them back down again, we consume them. They have no moral claim on us. No moral value. And without that they're rendered meaningless, fatuous, even.”
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