Reading a Nicola Barker novel is like taking a very odd drug. Her characters are unlike anyone you've ever met--and for that, perhaps, there's reason to be grateful. Take the cast of Wide Open, which includes Ronny, a homeless man we first meet waving at passing cars from a bridge. Only it turns out his name is not Ronny after all, but James, a name he subsequently bestows on the real Ronny, who is thereafter called Jim. Even though James/Ronny is right-handed, he insists on using only his left hand, because it helps him "concentrate." Then there's the real Ronny, a.k.a. Jim, who is utterly hairless. Not to mention Nathan, Ronny/Jim's brother, who works in the Lost Property department of the London Underground; Sara, proprietor of a boar farm in the beach town of Sheppey; and Sara's daughter, Lily, an angry, dirty 17-year-old who worships a boar birth defect she calls the Head. There's also Luke, a fat, handsome pornographer who smells like fish; Constance, an elfish optician in search of her father's past; and above all, the ghost of Big Ronny, Nathan and Ronny/Jim's father, who liked little boys.
Basically, these are all really, really creepy people, who do creepy and frequently nonsensical things. But the story Barker weaves out of their interactions is as compelling as anything in recent fiction, even if it operates by a narrative logic known only to the author. The reason is Barker's prose: vivid, urgent, wholly original. "He felt very strange, all of a sudden," one of her characters muses, "like this was a dream he was living, like this was a tired, old dream, and he didn't like the feel of it. Not one bit." Wide Open may on occasion feel like a bad dream of one sort or another, but the overall effect is more than absorbing: it's positively hallucinatory. --Mary Park [via]