Nicola Barker’s admirers must have experienced a tiny pang of regret when she was not invited (or didn’t accept an invitation – who knows?) to participate in the Olympic ceremonies of two summers ago. A procession of emotional basket cases in eccentric attire, capering around a shuttered seaside resort, flinging dead animals at each other, their barbed repartee giving way to lurching declarations, some terrible fracas drawing ineluctably ever closer, would surely have afforded the watching world a truer sense of Our Island Story than the self-serving mummery – chimneys! suffragettes! nurses! – that actually ensued.
To speak thus of Barker’s work implies that she writes the same novel over and over again. This is only partly true, though it would be no disgrace at all if it were wholly true, provided the novel was a good one – which it is, or at least I