Wesley is not, on the outside, the most prepossessing of men. He is a tramp with a mangled hand, a penchant for attacking sea-fowl and an admiration for the profundities of Alvin Toffler. However, he has a magnetic effect on people. As he pads about the English countryside, he is followed by a diverse collection of groupies as fascinated with his every gesture as primatologists studying the habits of a mountain gorilla. A candy company is behind part of the fascination: they have loosely pegged a treasure hunt, with clues in candy wrappers, to Wesley's habits and quirks. As the novel begins, Wesley has come to the seaside town of Canvey and exerts his peculiar powers of suggestion on a real estate agent, Ted, who finds him lodgings with the town's most scandalous citizen, Katherine Turpin. The Behindlings (as Wesley has denominated his followers) have also, predictably, convened on the spot. Dramatic action, such as it is, revolves around the revelation of the truth about the rumor that Katherine committed incest with her father and aborted his child. While Barker, an idiosyncratic English writer popular in the U.K. (The Three Button Trick and Other Stories; Wide Open), contrives a few clever phrases (at one point, she compares one character's relief at being left alone by his blowhard boss to the "blissful fervor which a ninety year old man might exhibit on discovering—after many years of drought—a small but sweetly intrepid erection floating daintily in the tired suds of a hot bath"), this novel suffers from a general anemia of character and plot. (Jan. 1)
Forecast:Ecco continues to champion Barker and hope for a breakthrough in the U.S. This latest novel may not do the trick, but its imaginative premise should help raise her profile a little.
Release date: 12/01/2002