This new book by A L Barker is ceaselessly entertaining and brimming with acute insights into a multiplicity of lives and characters. Described by the authoress as ‘an articulated novel’ it combines the genres of novel and short story (Barker has published nearly as many volumes of stories as novels) to produce a sparklingly inventive hybrid.
Ostensibly a recollection by professional story-teller Winifred Appleton, who has achieved the unlikely feat for a fiction-pedlar of packing out Wembley Stadium, the narrative is diversified through a series of fantasies provoked by incidents from Winifred’s life. A chance meeting or chance mention will turn her prismatic mind to new stories, many of which are self-contained vignettes of dazzling originality.
One of the most inspired digressions is sparked off by the appearance on Winifred’s doorstep of a group of Jehovah’s witnesses, one of whom, a ‘yellow man’ who ‘tried to kick his own feet from under him’ happens to be called George. George, then, is the name given to Winifred’s next character, a hapless, friendless municipal parks worker, who has decided that in order to become somebody he should commit murder. Around his house he comes across helpful notes addressed to himself: ‘There’s always Mrs Snagsby’ (his next-door neighbour), suggests the first. When George fails to dispatch his neighbour, a more frustrated communication appears: ‘There are twenty-thousand people in this borough, half of them malefactors.’ And finally, on a note of awful poignancy, ‘There’s always you.’