January 27, 2003 12:00 PM

by Nicola Barker

Barker’s willfully obscure fifth novel traces a gaggle of misfits and misanthropes (the “behindlings” of the title) and a self-styled guru named Wesley who leads them on a vaguely defined treasure hunt around the British isle of Canvey. Behindlings brims with oddballs, not least among them Wesley, whose spiritual quest began with the fratricidal act of locking his own brother in a Frigidaire, and Wesley’s nemesis, the “beautiful yet unspeakably wronged Katherine Turpin,” a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac who may or may not have aborted “her own father’s bastard.” But there is no plot to speak of, and Barker’s frustratingly inscrutable characters don’t interact so much as collide like billiard balls. Behindlings is twice as long, and half as good, as it should have been. (Ecco, $27.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Ding-a-lings

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