“Open yourself up again to all that terrible light and savage bliss and deafening
reverberation…” This is what one of the characters in In the Approaches by Nicola Barker is advised to do, and I think it is good advice for the reader too. Just keep reading and understanding grows, as this clever and original tale of consequences rockets,chapter by chapter, between different characters’ points of view, remembering the past and trying to survive the present.
In the Summer of 1971, a charismatic family sought refuge in the quiet, English coastal backwater of Pett Level. Bran Cleary was a controversial Irish muralist; his fractious and promiscuous wife (and muse) ‘Lonely’ Allaway who is half Aboriginal; their strange, sickly daughter, Orla Nor, is now regarded as almost a Saint.
Thirteen years later, when the novel starts, a shifty individual turns up in Pett Level, apparently determined to get to the bottom of the bizarre and ultimately tragic events which unfolded in the aftermath of that arrival. But does he really want to understand, or is he just way too close to the story to make any clear sense of it? I loved the 1984 views of the fledgling internet – lets be honest, apart from those using it, had any of us any idea? did we even guess? can we (those of us straddling the world before i. and after i.) quite believe it now?
And what of the various locals who seem so determined to resist and undermine his investigations, to preserve their secrets? The blurb says “A fabulously twisted comedy of very bad manners which starts out as a seaside idyll and ends up as a pilgrimage – sometimes sacred, sometimes profane, and frequently both at once.”
I loved it, the lively confusion of characters, whose various streams of conciousness both enlighten, and overwhelm you, the sense of a tale almost alive in front of you. I thought Barker’s writing and structure were so original, refreshing and interesting. And, have to say – BEST parrot-in-a-cage stream of conciousness writing EVER!
Sad and funny and strong, I have been thinking about it an awful lot since I read it………