Nicola Barker, hailed as "Best of Young British Novelists," has authored four previous books, including Wide Open and The Three Button Trick. Her latest novel, the rather long and slow-moving Behindlings, weighs in at 534 pages, and I found that I could not wait for the book to end. Though Barker's writing and obvious control of the language is, in itself, a literary accomplishment, the text is dry and full of seemingly pointless ramblings. There is a constant sense of, "Hey -- what's going on here?" But it is a weak sense, and really not powerful enough to keep the pages turning.
Wesley is this man who has coined a name for the people who follow him: they are his "behindlings". At any given point, there are people walking behind him, watching his every move breathlessly, eager with anticipation. Wesley's walk is even documented on the Internet. Some following are the same person day after day. Some come and go and return later, when more time is available. The story of the Behindlings revolves around the mysterious Wesley, but also includes the mindless meandering of those following him.
So why does everyone find themselves attracted to Wesley? It's because it is all part of a game. A treasure hunt. A candy company has placed clues in candy wrappers that point people toward following Wesley for answers.
When Wesley turns up in Canvey, his behindlings in tow, he convinces a weak-minded real estate agent to show him the property of Katherine Turpin. There is history between the walker and the woman; even the agent knows about the rumors of incest and abortions. By book's end, eventually, all things come to light with some dramatic scenes.
Nicola Barker is a talented writer of flowery prose and vivid imagery. However, her latest novel lacks any drive or sense of urgency, and Behindlings falls flat. The concept is clever. The story itself is well-told. That it all takes so long to tell is the book's downfall.