The Yips – Nicola Barker – Booker Prize 2012

Initially I thought it a tad strange to have a definition of “Yips” at the start of this novel as it is a term that I have been familiar with for years. However, as there must be a number of people who haven’t come across the term before I’ll replicate the definition here:

Yips (y ps). Pl. n. Nervousness or tension that causes an athlete to fail to perform effectively, especially in missing short putts in golf. (The Free Dictionary)
Before I go into my usual précis of the novel I’d like to quote a section that appears quite late in this 548pg tome.

‘Yeah. Something nice and easily digestible – finger-food for the internet generation. Maybe a little toy hidden away inside somewhere…’
‘Like a Christmas cracker or a self-help Kinder Egg.’
‘Exactly!’ Jen enthusiastic.
‘And the basic philosophy?’
‘No philosophy. No guidance. No structure. No pay-off. No real consequences. Just stuff and then more stuff.’
‘Stuff?’ Gene double-checks that he’s heard her correctly.
‘Yeah, stuff. Like, here’s some stuff, here’s some other stuff, here’s some more stuff. Just stuff – more and more stuff, different kinds of stuff which is only the same stuff but in different colours and with different names; stuff stacked up on top of itself in these huge, messy piles…’

Now I don’t want to give away too much of the story here but once I came to this section of the novel I did think to myself, “This conversation is describing this book, it’s just stuff in different colours (but the same) all piled up on itself.”
Basically we are in the mid 2000’s and have a has-been golfer, self-absorbed of course, who continues to believe he is still at the cutting edge of what the public wants. He is media savvy, broke and still expects to find his groove again one day. Whilst playing a small event in Luton he comes across a young barmaid who lives the new internet generation life, is full of bullshit and bravado, her part time boss (who has beaten cancer numerous times – it becomes more extreme as the novel progresses) who is married to a C of E clergy woman, who has unruly fringe problems. The golfer many years before hit a spectator with a stray ball and that caused court cases, premature deaths and more. The impacted family contains a psychotic mother who carries on in French, a lay about son (and his young child who seems to go about naked all the time), his sister who is an agoraphobic tattoo artist who specialises in merkins (pubic wigs) and her (now dead) father who taught her tattoo but who was also a collector of Nazi memorabilia. We also have a sex therapist and his pious Muslim wife, the Jamaican manager of the golfer (who has shipped all her children back home soon after birth), her sister who is an anti-environmentalist activist, entrepreneurs and more.
Of course all of these characters are interwoven in some way (you’ll have to read it to find out how), but despite all their idiosyncrasies I started to believe they were all a little alike (just more stuff piled on top of other stuff). Besides the obvious correlation to our main golfing guy having the yips, each and every character has them in some way too.
Obviously a comic social commentary on the internet generation and the lack of social interaction we currently pursue, this novel does contain quite a few gems:
I love tattooing but I’m my dad’s apprentice. I love the skin – I’m obsessed by it – it’s so magical and strong yet so unbelievably sensitive – it’s the thing that holds all the feelings in – the thing that touches the world; the mask, the source, the base, the surface….
I haven’t read Nicola Barker’s shortlisted novel from 2007 “Darkmans”, so this one was a revelation for me. At 548 pages it is not a novel you knock over quickly, and it did leave me a little flat, although amusing in parts and revealing in others it just seemed to wander on a little too long – finger food for the internet generation.

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