Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker, Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman and The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

“What emerges is a vastly satisfying and adventurous novel, a state-of-the-nation comedy from a novelist who can do pretty much anything she likes and is having a great time doing it.” So wrote Tim Martin in the Daily Telegraph of Burley Cross Postbox Theft, by Nicola Barker, “an even more purely comic work than her sprawling, much-acclaimed and periodically unhinged Darkmans (2007),” which “sets itself the task of revivifying the famously creaky and now largely neglected tradition of the epistolary novel”. “Barker’s knack for skewering the mores of the chattering classes remains strong, and a number of sparkling comic set-pieces stand out,” contended Nick Garrard in the Independent on Sunday. “However, there is the nagging feeling throughout that Barker is coasting. When placed among her ambitious body of work, this will primarily be seen as an ‘entertainment’.” According to Suzi Feay in the Financial Times, “the Yorkshire village of Burley Cross” is one of Barker’s “finest creations . . . which ranks alongside EF Benson’s Tilling as an irresistible comic destination . . . Barker’s control of tone is superb”.

“How can such a brief, tragic life justify a 440-page biography?” asked John Walsh in the Independent of Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman. Because Barrett “has always stood for more than an acid casualty. He is the damaged archangel of the Sixties counterculture, a martyr to art and soul and inner space, a guy who wouldn’t have any truck with commercialism. That’s the view of Sydologists worldwide, and in Rob Chapman they have found an energetic spokesman . . . His book is a monument of special pleading.” Lynn Barber in the Sunday Times noted: “It is the second half of the book, about the life of Roger Barrett, that is interesting, because we don’t often read the life of a recluse.” Sam Taylor in the Daily Telegraph was more positive: “Chapman is a fan, so it is done with genuine passion. Written in simple, unpretentious prose, it is particularly good at contextualisation: explaining the social and political roots of the London psychedelic scene . . . It is also good at peeling away images of glamour to the daily reality beneath: Pink Floyd actually spent much of the Summer of Love, for instance, being pelted with pint pots in places like Stowmarket and Rugby.”

Peter Kemp in the Sunday Times took against Andrew O’Hagan’s new novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe, which he described as “burdened with jocosity and ponderous cultural allusion”: “The marathons of Googling and the like that have presumably gone into the accumulating of all this make you marvel. But it’s the kind of puzzled wonderment you’d feel in front of, say, a model of the Taj Mahal laboriously constructed from used matchsticks.” “Literary purists will hate this book,” wrote Max Davidson in the Mail on Sunday: “Luckily, most of us are not purists, so we can enjoy the novel for what it is: a giggle-a-minute romp in which the author invites us to join him on a great adventure.” In Scotland on Sunday, Stuart Kelly was even more enamoured: “If I said this novel was profoundly superficial, I would not want that to be a criticism. It has the strenuous delicacy of a pond-skater standing on water, or a glass of champagne topped up to the rim . . . it’s the first novel of the Obama age, full of potential and hope and haunted by grief and regret . . . O’Hagan might, on the strength of this, be the person to break the Booker’s fear of funny.”

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