What a week it has been. I fought rising fever and influenza until Thursday noon when I landed in bed and stayed for almost 24 hours. Wednesday evening, I had tried to read a bit of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, but found it simplistically and flatly written. Unfortunate, for sure, as it’s garnered positive reviews, but I wasn’t interested. Finally, Thursday night, climbing from the feverish fog and fighting a ferocious headache, I began Clear by Nicola Barker. By the time I finished it late last night, I had laughed aloud, spring had arrived, and I felt almost new. Clear is the story of a man’s journey from muddled irony into, well, a bit of clarity, viewed around and amongst some of the circus that surrounds illusionist David Blaine’s 2003 London stunt. While Blaine is suspended above the Thames in a clear box for all to view, Adie MacKenny scampers around beneath him devising clever routines for getting laid.
Adie’s worldview is highly referential, tangential, and not the least bit existential. He’s the flatmate of another posh young Londoner who travels in elite circles, eating the right foods and listening to the right music while Adie dwells in the basement, nursing disdain for and distance from others. That is, until one night when, attendant to the Blaine spectacle, Adie is propelled into Aphra’s world. All this may seem a bit formulaic, but Barker’s zesty dialogue and narrative prevents the story from taking on anything resembling a dull sheen. Aphra is a young woman who sits distinctly apart from Adie’s circle, but who pulls him into hers. So is the novel about David Blaine’s exhibition? Now, who would think that? This is the first Barker for me, and she’s a world class ironist, in my opinion. Barker uses the atmosphere and elements of the Blaine stunt as a foil against some real magic unfolding in Adie’s life, not just the sleight of shallow romance, but the permanent silk of self revelation and elevation. It just couldn’t be more clear.