Author(s): Nicola Barker
Imagine a perfect world where everything is known, where everything is open, where there can be no doubt, no hatred, no poverty, no greed. Imagine a System which both nurtures and protects. A Community which nourishes and sustains. An infinite world. A world without sickness, without death. A world without God. A world without fear. Could you...might you be happy there? H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It's a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It's a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph - a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty.
Winner: Goldsmiths Prize 2017
Longlisted for the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction
"Nicola Barker's H(A)PPY is a work of vaulting ambition. It is deathly serious but played out with the lightest of touches. She takes the vapid discourse of social media blather, with all its `likes' and `favourites', and extrapolates madly to make a language for an utterly believable future world, a world enslaved by the blandness of its technology. Line by line, the novel carefully builds its music and teases out its crazed riffs. It's very funny but there are pockets of great eeriness, and of savagery even. It's a novel-as-object, too, with a typography employed as visual code, but its design always has a narrative purpose. Only a writer of uncanny ability could bring this novel to such memorable, pulsing life. It's very moving." -- Kevin Barry
"H(A)PPY is anything but conventional, subverting the traditions of sci-fi, typography and narrative ... The coloured words are joined by a host of typographical flourishes, making the book a bravura piece of design ... Barker is as gnomic, terrifying and glorious as ever." -- Justine Jordan * Guardian *
"Nicola Barker's kaleidoscopic new novel is a socio-political futurama with a wildness and honesty all of its own ... What wonders there are in Nicola Barker's bewildering, fatiguing and deliciously stimulating new novel ... Echoing and quoting literary styles and situations, disrupting the words on the page - via those coloured inks, blank pages, typographical games - in a manner that traces a line from Laurence Sterne to avant-gardists such as BS Johnson, Deborah Levy and Tom McCarthy ... But H(a)ppy ventures far beyond a retread of narratological theory ... Any description of H(a)ppy can only fail to do justice to its wildness and its honesty. It is a superb novel by a genuinely experimental and committed novelist. In Barker's hand, narrative, however fragile, not only survives but thrives." -- Alex Clark * Observer *
"(Barker) specialises in formal eccentricity, thematic novelty, stylistic excess ... Her new book is her strangest yet, an avant-garde slice of dystopian science fiction that thumbs its nose...at the conventions of the genre ... It is a small miracle that this uncompromising anti-novel about the collapse of narrative absolutely works ... Barker is as innovative and idiosyncratic as ever." -- Edmund Gordon * Sunday Times *
"No book Nicola Barker writes is remotely like a book by anyone else, which is one of the many reasons to celebrate her. Also, no two books by Nicola Barker are doing remotely the same thing, which is another. So you never quite know what you're in for. And H(A)PPY, even by her own extravagant standards, is very strange indeed ... Barker has always been a visionary writer - visionary in style, with past and present interpenetrating in dream and hallucination. But her interest in religious visions and theology here comes to the fore ... As I say, Barker is not remotely like any other writer. With its typographical jiggering about (words really do change colour, and some pages have blocks of identical text or no text at all), and its favouring of symbols and ideas over characters, setting and story, it's more like a poem or artwork than a novel. Still, it's quite something. I'm just not sure what." -- Sam Leith * Literary Review *
"With polychromatic printing, creative typography and sheer inspiration, the post-apocalyptic novel has been turned on its head ... In most fiction set in totalitarian states, the principal protagonist will gradually realise the monstrosity of the regime...Nicola Barker, one of our greatest contemporary novelists, with typical elan, turns this paradigm inside out ... This must be the most beautifully designed book I have read since Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves ... As the novel progresses, Barker pulls off an astonishing piece of technique ... She is the most unpredictable novelist I know." -- Stuart Kelly * The Scotsman *
"The English novelist Nicola Barker began publishing in the mid-1990s, hit her stride almost immediately ... Barker seems to find writing fiction as natural as breathing, and there's a strong imaginative streak to almost everything she does ... The Prospero role is here assumed by Barker herself, and the parallel is fairly close: creative to excess, more than capable of abusing her omnipotence, blurring the border between genius and dazzle." -- Leo Robson * New Statesman *
"A trailblazing sci-fi writer makes a bleak future seem fun ... Nicola Barker is the high priestess of weird ... H(A)PPY is the story of one woman's escape from a controlling matrix formed by a powerful artificial intelligence ... As Mira's journey of emancipation progresses, a full-on typographic melodrama explodes off the page ... It's confusing but fun. Barker, along with David Mitchell and Dave Eggers, is an important trailblazer for literary sci-if. H(A)PPY does not present a cheerful version of the future of humanity, but in her hands it is a hauntingly convincing one." -- Melissa Katsoulis * The Times *
"Lately, no destination on the map of fiction has welcomed so many visitors as the twin islands of utopia and dystopia. When she entered this populous domain, Nicola Barker - the rule-busting, genre-twisting maverick author of 11 previous novels - was never likely to deliver an orthodox post-catastrophe fable of lonely revolt against an all-powerful, all-knowing tyranny ... As ever, Barker spins her ingredients into a wild, antic performance with a tuning - comic, satirical, mystical, downright weird - all her own ... You might treat H(A)PPY as a creative uprising against the iron laws of dystopia itself ... Beautifully designed pages ... An occult musical theme drifts through her dystopian architecture ... At times I was tempted to read H(A)PPY as a delirious allegory of the "tuning wars" among musicians ... Barker layers the emerging tale of Mira's disobedience with overtones that hum in the background ... Not only the ideas but the very words on the page spiral, loop, morph and shatter. Barker's expressive typography enacts the breakdowns, and breakthroughs, of Mira's mutiny: not some avant-garde stunt, but the method of George Herbert's "pattern poems", or of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy ... She succeeds in tuning the dystopian genre to a fresh, uncanny pitch." -- Boyd Tonkin * Financial Times *
"H(A)PPY is Barker's most audacious and important novel since Darkmans ... A clever exploration of the compulsive and destructive power of narrative ... Language, grammar and typography spiral out of control until they reach the crescendo of a typographical cathedral composed of a "billion tiny calculations" ... Barker has always been a wildly experimental writer and never more so than now ... [H(A)PPY] demonstrates her visceral sensitivity to words." -- Ruth Scurr * Times Literary Supplement *
Nicola Barker was born in Ely in 1966 and spent part of her childhood in South Africa. She is the author of ten previous novels - including Wide Open, Darkmans, The Yips and In the Approaches - and two short story collections. She has been twice longlisted and once shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, has won the IMPAC, the John Llewellyn Rhys and the Hawthornden Prizes, and was named one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Writers in 2003. She lives and works in east London.