“The Yips” by Nicola Barker – Searching for the Quintessential Nicola Barker Lines

“The Yips” by Nicola Barker  (2012) – 548 pages


Nicola Barker is for sure one of the flakiest oddball writers in the world today.  She is wonderful.   While reading “The Yips”, I was ever on the lookout for the quintessential Nicola Barker lines that in their quirkiness would fully do her justice.  Not to keep you in suspense, I believe I found the ultimate lines, and here they are.

“Did you know that the word – the actual word – for ‘individual’ didn’t even exist in Japan until 1884?” Jen asks, casually fishing the seam of her white catsuit out of the crack in her bottom as she speaks.    

Well it seemed great at the time.

This is part of a conversation; “The Yips”, like many of Barker’s novels contains many, many conversations between disparate characters.  I won’t describe these disparate characters, because they won’t make sense to you unless you read the novel, and even then it’s rather iffy.   A writer must emphasize her strong points, and Nicola Barker is glorious with dialogue.  One gets the sense that Barker improvises these dialogues as she goes along.

The intermixing of the cleverly rational with the low profane physical is another quality of Nicola Barker’s writing illustrated by the above lines.  Also typical of Barker, her character Jen is having problems wearing her white catsuit.

“The Yips” is a long novel page-wise, yet it reads fast, since so much of it is made up of conversation, and there is plenty of white space on each page.

Having been repeatedly nominated for literary awards and prizes, Nicola Barker has won over many English readers.  However, she is still comparatively unknown in the United States where she tends to get written off as a quirky local regional English writer.  I discovered Nicola Barker several years ago when I read her novel “Wide Open”.  I was tremendously impressed with that novel which seemed light as a soufflé.  Most other novels were heavy fare in comparison.

But not all of the conversations in “The Yips” are light as a feather.  For instance, here is “The Yips” on marriage.

‘How does it work?’ With endless amounts of compromise, of course! And self-denial.  And frustration.  And confusion.  And bitter recrimination.  And constant resentment.  And utter boredom…’  She pauses briefly to draw breath.  ‘And bouts of incandescent rage,’ she continues opening her eyes again, ‘gales of hysterical laughter.  Perhaps even the tiniest sprinkling of  Divine Providence…’she glances up at Valentine, shrugging, resignedly.  ‘Pretty much like any marriage, I suppose.’

Nicola Barker I do think that Nicola Barker’s style of writing works better in shorter novels.  “Wide Open” at about 300 pages is still my favorite.  It’s hard to make a soufflé stay up for over 500 pages.  Yet I was tremendously entertained by most of the conversations that are in ‘The Yips’.  I really would like to see Nicola Barker write a great 300-page novel that would take over the United States for once and all.

In “The Yips”, Barker comes up with a pretty good description of her effect on readers:

 “It was brilliant! Insane!  How the hell did you just spontaneously come up with all that shit?”

3 responses to this post.

  1. I am also a Barker fan and I agree completely that it is an impossible challenge to try to convince North Americans to read her beyond saying “trust me, she is very good” — which is pretty much what your review comes down to saying. Precisely because her strength is in dialogue and the various “dialogues” in the book are so different (although all very close to real) there is no way to adequately summarize that.

    And I would also agree that some length restraint would produce a better result — as good as she is, the constant dialogue does start to get repetitive.


  2. Hi Kevin,
    We agree that Nicola Barker is a difficult ‘sell’ this side of the Atlantic. Her fiction is the opposite of historical fiction or novels that depend on a strong narrative. With her dialogues, it’s like she is operating without much of a net of story to hold up her creations. I would call her an ‘experimental’ writer, except her writing is so easy to enjoy.


  3. […] and ultimately less positive review which is here. Anokatony also wrote a rather nice review here, which has a spot-on final quote. If you’re reading this and you’ve written one that I […]


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