The Yips by Nicola Barker

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The Yips by Nicola Barker

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: This is an extraordinary (in a good way) look at a slice of British life with all accompanying poignancy, fun and eccentricity. People you'd like to befriend are placed beside those you'd run miles from in reality but who contribute to a delicious experience.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0007476657

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Stuart Ransom is a golfing has-been and he's the only one who doesn't realise it. If his recollections are anything to go by (and who can tell?) he was on a par with the best. Times have changed though; the handicap isn't what it once was and age and alcohol have taken their toll. However, hope springs eternal and there's always one more match, so perhaps this is it. Meanwhile Gene, who splits his time between working at the hotel in which Stuart is staying and reading electricity meters, encounters an agoraphobic, exotic tattooist. Valentine is a woman struggling with an unhealthily precocious 2 year-old, a brother flirting with criminality and a brain-injured mother who has become more than a little eccentric. Add Gene's wife Rev Sheila and her personal crisis into the mix and it becomes a recipe for disaster, it's just a case of waiting for it to erupt.

Named after a saying denoting the inexplicable loss of sporting form or folding under pressure, this is Nicola Barker's ninth novel and her second crack at the Man Booker after Darkmans five years ago. But rather than declaring her well-earned success across rooftops, she prefers the approach of the embarrassed Brit. Nicola likes to warn people before they buy as she doesn't want anyone starting her books unaware of the content. Therefore, in the spirit of the author herself, I shall warn you: be prepared, this is wonderful stuff.

The thing is that Ms Barker can't be accused of writing vanilla prose; she does neither 'bland' nor 'middle of the road'. Take Stuart for instance. He's loud, rude (yes, there is bad language and some sex and a few drugs too), politically incorrect in a way that will make your sides hurt as you roll on the floor (figuratively at least) and will leave you with so many lasting images to chuckle over at random moments, your family will give you a wide berth for days. As prime examples I offer the conversation on the chess board and the scene in which he's naked and being beaten up with a clipboard by a woman in the throes of labour. (You don't forget this book in a hurry!) He isn't completely comic book grotesque though; he's also endowed with a humanity that's visible through his Teflon-coated arrogance.

In fact Nicola mixes surreal moments with reality and pathos using the expert stroke of an artist who observes life. As much as we giggle at Valentine's struggle to control her niece's lack of inhibition, we feel her frustration as she fights against suffocation by those who subsume her. Gene is more bloke-next-door, so busy doing everything for everyone else he even minimises his own health problems. As for Rev Sheila, as I've a husband in the faith industry I can vouch for how widespread and authentic those self-doubts and pressures are. Indeed, for every touch of light, there's a spot of darkness and many moments where the laughter stops dead…

Another thing you'll notice is the meticulous research producing entertainingly eclectic subject matter. Golf, merkins (another reason why this is for the mature in age), the psychology of the tattoo and the hijab all slide into the storyline, absorbed and integrated without a hiccup in pace. There are also a couple of twists, one of which is more shock than surprise. There have been adverse comments about 'meaningful' and 'meandering' conversations but for me that adds to its charm and also reflects the sort of chats that are part of life.

In the blurb Nicola Barker is likened to [[Category:P G Wodehouse|PG Wodehouse]. Although she's as adept at pacing humour as PG was, NB has greater breadth. If a comparison is really necessary, I'd suggest that this author is a cocktail of Alan Ayckbourn, Willy Russell and Mike Leigh but that wouldn't be the whole story. For, as the Man Booker panel have recognised, Nicola Barker has a style all of her own and richly deserves the nomination.

I would like to thank Fourth Estate for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.

2012's Man Booker long list is the mixed bag of styles and subjects we've come to expect. If you want to dip into the diversity then we can heartily recommend many of the 12, including The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and Communion Town by Sam Thompson.

Buy The Yips by Nicola Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Yips by Nicola Barker at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Yips by Nicola Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Yips by Nicola Barker at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg The Yips by Nicola Barker is in the Man Booker Prize 2012.

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