I’m beginning to rediscover Clive Barker.
Up to a point in my late teenhood, when I read little else but works of fiction that came under the various sub-categories of “horror,” I couldn’t get enough of the likes of Barker (although he hadn’t written much at that point), Stephen King, James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz (or Dean R Koontz, as he was then known (anyone know why he dropped the “R”?)) and their ilk. But then I grew up… sort of… and branched out into science fiction… and, erm… well, other stuff… the point being that horror was relegated to being only one of the literary genres I indulged in. Until recently, I occasionally picked up a King or a Koontz, amidst my explorations of science fictional delights and the aforementioned “other stuff,” but of the other authors of a horrific bent, little or nothing could be seen. Until, that is, I was drawn to Barker’s latest (or thereabouts), Mister B. Gone…
Mister B. Gone purports to be the journal of a medieval demon (or devil or somesuch). It begins with a warning that one should read no further and burn this book, else one will come to great harm. What a premise! Well of course, I continued reading. What followed over the next couple of hundred pages was classic Barker – macabre, horrific, as is to be expected in a tale where a denizen of the Ninth Circle of Hell is the main protagonist; but with a heavy dose of humour, to lighten the darkness, so to speak. I loved it. I lapped it up, despite the nauseating flavour of some of the passages and descriptions and so forth. It reminded me of everything I used to love about Mr B* – particularly his more visceral early works: The Books of Blood, The Hellbound Heart and so on.
And so, thus reminded, my appetite thus re-whetted, I spotted a lovely colourful copy of another recent (or perhaps latest) work on the library shelf, the second of his “books of Abarat,” Days of Magic, Nights of War. Of course, since it would be simply unthinkable to read the second book of Abarat before the first, I proceeded to order the first, that being entitled (not entirely surprisingly) Abarat. These books are (technically speaking) children’s books, and so inevitably do not (I would expect) have the kind of viscerality and adult-themes of the works of Barker I am used to, but, at presently just over a hundred pages into Abarat, about a quarter of the way through, it is… simply delightful! Beautiful, weird, terrifying… The vividness of his descriptions, the unbounded clarity of his imagination… tiz a Barkerian Alice in Wonderland, but distinctly Barkerian for that! I may pop back and write more about the delights of this work, but for now I just want to leave you with a couple of passages which I found especially pleasing…
Without another thought she walked on past the STREET ENDS sign, catching it with her palm as she went so that it rocked in the shallow hole some lazy workman had made for it, and headed out into the gently swaying grass.
“I don’t see why we can’t play water polo like everybody else,” he complained, with more than a hint of piscatorial pout.
* Hmm… Mister B… Gone… some kind of metaphor there? A symbolic reference to something, perhaps the suggestion that in this particular book, Barker removed himself as the author? Suggesting that the demon really was the author? Wouldn’t surprise me, Barker being the wordsmith/poet and master of symbolism that he is…