Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

War on Blandness

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

War on Blandness

Article excerpt

Nicola Barker has won this year's Goldsmiths Prize, in association with the New Statesman, for her novel H(A)PPY. Kevin Barry praises a "gloriously mad" vision of a technology-enslaved future

It feels almost like the whisper of a filthy heresy to say that literature should above all things be fun. The prose might deliver little shudders of sensual pleasure. The text might instruct us cannily or enhance our understanding of psychology, of the universe, of life itself. We might swoon into new empathies on the turn of the novelist's trick. But you know: give us a good time or your book is getting flung at the fucking wall.

And there is a very direct correlation, clearly, between the amount of fun being had on the writer's desk and the amount of fun being experienced by the beloved reader at the far end of the process. There is the biopic version of the tortured writer's daily struggle, with our hero pacing the study like a caged lion, dripping angst from every genius pore, tearfully balling up the pages and throwing them at the basket--no, I don't want to read that stuff either. One suspects that Nicola Barker is, by contrast, having a lot of fun at her desk.

Her most recent novel, H(A)PPY, is a gloriously mad extrapolation. It takes the strains of a very contemporary language --a language with the inflections of social media blather, of therapy-speak, of management-waft --and it lets that language spin out, further and further, and faster and faster, and onwards into time's black void, until a new and future world has been whirled into shape, and this world comes to life quite brilliantly. …

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