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Nicola Barker: Pity her martyred readers 

About every five or ten pages, all the way through Nicola Barker's new novel, The Yips, someone "scowls". Every single character does it, at the mildest provocation. All the characters "wince" a lot, too. The reader winces and scowls along with them. But The Yips is in fact so verbally repetitious that one ceases to believe in the possibility of accident and starts to look, in amazement, for some kind of deliberate scheme. By page 14, three different characters have done three different things "fastidiously". Surely, of all words, "fastidious" isn't being repeated carelessly — it must be some intentional irony. Waiting for "fastidious" to reappear becomes a chief page-turning interest (without spoiling the whole thing: on page 104 "Stan winces, fastidiously"). What is this world Nicola Barker has created, full of fastidious, scowling, wincing people, and what does it tell us about our own?

But more repetitions are everywhere. To give just a few more examples: On page 93, "Stan gazes at the golfer, balefully"; on 101, "Noel glares at [Valentine], balefully". On 139, "Gene's understandably quizzical"; on 144, Jen "inspects Gene quizzically". On 129, Esther observes Ransom "with a somewhat jaundiced eye"; on 147, "Ransom cocks a mildly jaundiced eyebrow". The words being repeated here are all members of what might be thought of as the classical lexicon of British-English comedy — they all possess some intrinsic comic value. But Nicola Barker seems to think this value is unlimited, that simply to know these words, like sorcerers' spells, is to be an eternal comic genius. She doesn't notice them lignifying in her unsparing, imprecise hands. 

And it's not just the incontinent repetitions: solecisms ("quickly honing in on"), infelicities ("copious levels of interest"), redundancies ("sneaking a furtive puff"), and mass-casualty train-wreck sentences like this:

[...] Ransom stares around him — tipsy and slightly bewildered — struggling to assess the aesthetic shortcomings of his current environs, then starts, theatrically, at the nightmarish spectre of earth-shattering mediocrity suddenly — quite unwittingly — finds himself party to.

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