Nicola Barker makes her own rules. This is a short novel by her standards but would be substantial by anyone else’s. It is also relatively conventional, being a biographical novel about an Indian sage that sticks fairly closely to the facts, despite featuring an interlude in which we observe a temple by means of a minute spy camera attached to the back of a swift – in 1855. An interpolated story about a devotee includes the sound effect parp-parp! after every mention of the guru’s name. As I say, all quite conventional for Barker.
The story of Sri Ramakrishna (parp-parp! – I’ll stop it now) is mostly told via his nephew and ardent helpmeet Hriday, who is both besotted with and bothered by his eccentric uncle. But with the voice occasionally passing from first person to third in the space of a single paragraph,