Clear: A Transparent Novel

( 4 )

Overview

On September 5, 2003, illusionist David Blaine entered a small Perspex box adjacent to London's Thames River and began starving himself. Forty-four days later, on October 19, he left the box, fifty pounds lighter. That much, at least, is clear. And the rest? The crowds? The chaos? The hype? The rage? The fights? The lust? The filth? The bullshit? The hypocrisy?

Nicola Barker fearlessly crams all that and more into this ribald and outrageous peep show of a novel, her most ...

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Clear

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Overview

On September 5, 2003, illusionist David Blaine entered a small Perspex box adjacent to London's Thames River and began starving himself. Forty-four days later, on October 19, he left the box, fifty pounds lighter. That much, at least, is clear. And the rest? The crowds? The chaos? The hype? The rage? The fights? The lust? The filth? The bullshit? The hypocrisy?

Nicola Barker fearlessly crams all that and more into this ribald and outrageous peep show of a novel, her most irreverent, caustic, up-to-the-minute work yet, laying bare the heart of our contemporary world, a world of illusion, delusion, celebrity, and hunger.

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Editorial Reviews

Time Out
"Nicola Barker has a rare writing talent."
Alain de Botton
“Her vision is unique, funny, dark, sarcastic and clever.”
Elle
“Barker’s weird imagination works wonders...Exceptional.”
New York Times Book Review
“The plot doesn’t just twist, it leaps and back-flips and does triple somersaults...”
Elle
“Barker’s weird imagination works wonders...Exceptional.”
The Spectator
“The brilliance of Barker’s style is beyond question.”
Booklist
“Barker’s earthy, inventive, hilarious, and wickedly satirical novel is enormously entertaining.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“The diversity of Barker’s imagination is stunning; her language, witty and exact.”
Time Out (London)
“Nicola Barker has a rare writing talent.”
Sunday Times (London)
“Barker’s narrative draws us in with the disturbing, surreal touch of a latter-day Lewis Carroll.”
London Times
“Dazzling...She celebrates the complexity of human experience.”
Jean Nathan
Despite her postmodern metafictional high jinks, Barker leaves us with an old-fashioned message: we're all trapped in boxes, and we can't be freed by the contents of our boxlike televisions, computers, iPods and cellphones, which only encourage us to "hold life cheap."
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
With her fresh, confident sophomore novel (after Behindlings), Barker offers a meditation on illusionist David Blaine's feat of self-starvation-44 days spent suspended in a clear box above the Thames River. Analytical narrator Adie, a prickly, literate young man who works in an office overlooking the Blaine spectacle, carefully dissects the psychology of both Blaine and the hordes of onlookers who feed him attention as he slowly starves. Meanwhile, Adie's own drama unfolds, set off by a strange encounter with Aphra, a perplexing girl with a freakish sense of smell and a fetish for vintage shoes who spends her nights on the riverbank watching Blaine sleep. As Adie's involvement with Aphra grows more complicated, his initially cynical interest in Blaine becomes more obsessive. "Perhaps... this loopy illusionist has tapped into something.... A fury. A disillusionment," Adie muses, ruminating on the vileness and beauty that Blaine's presence has brought out among Brits. Despite Adie's determined disdain for the man, the unwelcome "Hunger Artist" leads him to wonder if "Some things are beyond the reach of art. Some words are meaningful beyond understanding." Offbeat and authentic, intellectual and accessible, Barker's is an original voice. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The British author (Behindlings, 2002, etc.) riffs amusingly on a recent historical incident. On September 5, 2003, American "illusionist" (i.e., magician) David Blaine spent 44 days in a clear plastic (Perspex) box suspended over the Thames River near London's Tower Bridge. Blaine emerged from his self-imposed ordeal (during which he ingested nothing but water) 50 pounds lighter, and possessed of a paradoxical celebrity. Here, Barker considers possible motives for his stunt (homage to Holocaust victims, protest against mass consumerism), while sketching the varied reactions of the "community" of spectators that forms nearby, and comments-often in quite vitriolic terms-on the American intruder's action (or, more properly, inaction). No real conclusions are drawn by Barker's diffident narrator, Adair MacKenny, a minor clerk at the London Assembly Building. But we hear rather more from his Ghanaian flatmate Solomon (who has made a career out of absorbing and debating British pop culture), Solomon's sweetheart Jalisa (who notes "hunger-artist" Blaine's intellectual debt to filmmaker Werner Herzog as well as Kafka) and Adair's putative girlfriend Aphra, whose obsession with collecting shoes seems scarcely less bizarre than the overhead spectacle observers have dubbed "Above the Below." In this sixth outing, Barker eschews plot, offering instead excited commentary vitiated by deliberate redundancy, hectoring addresses to the reader, aggressive overpunctuation and lots of blank space on the page. Add to this the author's refusal to develop any of her characters, and there really isn't much more to this than one character's banal summary declaration that Blaine is "like a mirror in which peoplecan see the very best and worst of themselves. That's the simple genius of what he's doing." Perhaps Clear is a magic act-because this essentially empty novel was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize. Kudos to Barker for pulling that off. The novel itself is another story.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060797577
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/14/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,494,593
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicola Barker is one of Britain's most original and exciting literary talents. She is the author of two short-story collections: Love Your Enemies [winner of the David Higham Prize and the Macmillan Silver Pen Award] and Heading Inland [winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize]. Her previous novels are Reversed Forecast, Small Holdings, Wide Open Behindlings and Clear, the last of which was long-listed for the 2005 Booker Prize. Her work is translated into twenty languages, and in 2000, she won the IMPAC Award for Wide Open. In 2003, Nicola Barker was named a Granta Best of British Novelist. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Clear

A Transparent Novel
By Nicola Barker

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Nicola Barker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060797576

Chapter One

I couldn't even begin to tell you why, exactly, but my head was suddenly buzzing with the opening few lines of Jack Schaefer's Shane (his 'Classic Novel of the American West'. Remember?). I was thinking how incredibly precise those first lines were, and yet how crazily effortless they seemed; Schaefer's style (his -- ahem -- 'voice'), so enviably understated, his artistic (if I may be so bold as to use this word, and so early in our acquaintance) 'vision' so totally (and I mean totally) unflinching.

'I have huge balls.'

That's what the text's shouting:

'I have huge balls, d'ya hear me? I have huge fucking balls, and I love them, and I have nothing else to prove here.'

The rest -- as they say -- is all gravy.

Because let's face it, when you've got balls that size, you automatically develop a strange kind of moral authority, a gung-ho-ness (for want of a better word), a special intellectual certainty, which is very, very seductive to all those tight-arsed and covetous Princess-Tiny-Meats out there (the Little-Balls, and the No-Balls -- Good God, let's not forget about them, eh?).

I don't make the rules, okay? I'm just a dispassionate observer of the Human Animal. If you feel the urge to argue this point (you're at perfect liberty to do so), then why not write a detailed letter to Ms Germaine Greer? (That's it, love, you run off and fetch your nice, green biro ... Yeah. And I'm sure she'd just love to read it, once she's finally finished rimming that gorgeous teenager ...)

Schaefer (to get back to my point), as a writer, simply jumps, feet-first, straight into the guts of the thing.

If I might just ... uh ... quote something, to try and illustrate (and this is entirely from memory, so bear with me) ...

'He rode into our Valley in the summer of '89. I was just a kid back then, barely as tall as our perimeter fence ...'

Yes. So that's a really (Ouch, no ... I mean a really) rough approximation of the original (I can't find my copy. And don't sue me, Jack, if you're still alive and misquotation is the one thing that keeps you up at night. Or -- worse still -- if you're some crusty bastard working in the copyright department of some big-ass publishers in Swindon who just loves to get his rocks off prosecuting over this kind of harmless, well-meaning shite: it's meant to be a tribute to the man, so will you maybe just cut me a little slack here?).

It's a rough approximation (as I believe I already emphasised), but I'm sure you get the gist of the thing ...

Let's cut it right back to the bone then, shall we?

He. Yeah? The first word: He. That's him. That's Shane: The Man.

Just a single, short breath into the narrative, and already he's here. He's arrived. It's Shane. He's standing right in front of us: completely (quite astonishingly) dimensional.

And in the second breath? (If you can just try and suppress your excitement for a minute.) In that second breath he's ... Oh. My. God. He's coming even closer.

WAH!

He's almost on top of you now (Smell the warm leather of his chaps -- the sweat on his horse -- the grease in his gun-holster).

Uh, let's rewind for a moment: the second word (second word, right?) is 'rode'. He rode ... He rode ... (just in case some of you weren't keeping up).

'He rode into our valley ...'

He rode ...

And there you have it. In just two, short, superficially insignificant words, A Hero Is Born.

God.

It's so fucking humbling.

Please (pretty please) don't let me harp on too long about all of this (because I will harp. Harping's my trademark) but what absolutely immaculate styling, eh?

(Give the man credit for it why don't you?

Schaefer?

Stand up and take a bow!

Schaefer ...?

Wow. He's certainly getting on a little now, isn't he?

And ... uh ... he's kind of wobbly on his ...

Whoops!

Can he ...?

Would you mind ...?

Oh.

Is that his secretary, just next to him there?

Could she maybe ...? Yeah?

Well that's D that's good. Great ... Uh ...

Hup!

Wowsa.

Phew!

Steady. Steady ...

Aw.

Just look at the old dog -- look at him! -- lapping it all up.

And the audience?

On their feet. Waving their bic lighters, singeing their thumbnails. Stamping their feet. In a state of complete bloody ecstasy, and all because of just two simple words. That's two. Count 'em.)

You can't learn that stuff. No way. It's born (I'm serious. I should know). And you can call me naive (if you like. I'm man enough to take it), but I'm not seeing Schaefer (in my mind's eye), his head tilted on one side, his mouth gently gaping, his pencil cocked, taking detailed notes on 'structure' or 'the use of metaphor' at some cruddy creative writing seminar in some embarrassing further education college in the American Mid-West circa 1947. (Fuck off!)

Because this is no-frills writing at its very best. This is 'am-it', 'lived-it' stuff. Shane (yeah, remember him? He ...? He rode?) is the first person Schaefer mentions in the book; the first syllable, no less. And if I've got this right (and I'm fairly sure that I have ... Okay, bollocks, I know I have), then he's also the last. He's the last syllable.

(Cue music for The Twilight Zone.)

It can't be an accident! It just can't.

The novel ends on his name (this time, though, Shane is leaving, not arriving). The whole narrative essentially resounds to the rhythm of his name:

Shhhh-aaay-yne (Yeah. I think that works better phonetically, for some reason).

Please note -- the secret poets among you, especially -- that perfect hush in the first part of the word -- Shhhh! Be quiet! Someone important owns this name! Pay attention! Shhhh!

Continues...


Excerpted from Clear by Nicola Barker Copyright © 2006 by Nicola Barker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

In September of 2003, illusionist David Blaine climbed inside a Perspex box, suspended from a crane by the Thames, for the beginning of what would be a 44 day fast. Over the course of his disturbing exhibit, a country would become fixated by Blaine: his purpose, his meaning, and whether he represented all that was good in this world, or everything that was wrong. Amidst the media frenzy and the chaos below, one man, Adair Graham MacKenny, struggles to find meaning not only in Blaine's life, but in his own life and in the lives of others. Raucous and outrageous, Clear provides an honest look at our modern world, where celebrity brings out the best and worst in humankind, and where illusions are not just magic tricks, but part of the mysteries of life.

Questions for Discussion

  1. There are characters in the novel who believe David Blaine represents everything good, and those who believe Blaine represents everything bad. Why does Adair's opinion of the illusionist flip-flop throughout the novel?

  2. The "Insiders" love David Blaine and the "Outsiders" hate him. Bly says it's "because he's a blank canvas. He's transparent. He's Clear. So when people look up at him they don't hate what he is. They project everything they're feeling on to him ... He's like a mirror in which people can see the very best and the very worst of themselves" [pg 311]. How, then, are Adair, Aphra, and Solomon's opinions of Blaine a reflection of their own selves?

  3. While David Blaine starves himself, Aphra cooks up delicacies for her dying husband who is not allowed to eat. Do you feel Aphra sees her dying husband in David Blaine's exhibit?

  4. Hunger artists fast for 40 days. Do you believe David Blaine and other hunger artists choose the 40 day mark for its religious significance, or because, as Adair points out, it's as long as the media is going to pay attention to them? Or maybe because it's the absolute limit a human body can endure?

  5. Why is Solomon so outraged when the media uncovers Rasket's connection to the white music teacher? Is his anger racially motivated, or is he actually disillusioned? Is Rasket just another "illusionist" then?

  6. Do you believe David Blaine tried to make a connection between his starving artist act and the Holocaust? Are they connected in any way? If so, how?

  7. How does the novel explore art and capitalism, and the fine line that separates them? Do you believe David Blaine's magic is art or capitalism?

  8. Hilary predicts the future, Aphra can tell everything about people through her sense of smell. Is David Blaine any more spectacular than some of the average people watching him?

  9. Despite his hostility to Jalisa, Solomon is devastated when they break up. Why? Is Solomon threatened by Jalisa?

  10. How are Shane and David Blaine alike? What is their connection in the novel?

  11. Is Aphra a negative or a positive influence on Adair's life?

  12. Why does Adair return night after night to read to Brandy Leyland? Does Adair sympathize with this dying man or is it part of his obsession with Aphra?

  13. Adair takes pains to point out what he doesn't like about Aphra in the beginning, but slowly becomes more and more drawn to her. Why does Adair become so obsessed with Aphra?

About the Author

Nicola Barker's previous books include Behindlings; The Three Button Trick, Other Stores, and Wide Open. She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2012

    To elana

    What dif you guys do last night <3

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Puppy

    *whimpers at the door because shes locked in the house with no food. No water. No name. No love. And most of all none knows her secret. Slowly the puppy morfs into a young girl around the age of three. The girl picks the lock and steps out into the chilly late August air searching for Elena*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Silvermoontar

    "Hes talking smack? Beat his @$$!"

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