First of all I should say that I’m glad to be writing about a novel of Barker’s, rather than a posthumous tribute. He nearly left us in January after contracting toxic shock after a visit to the dentist. He was in a coma and wasn’t expected to recover, but had ‘too much to do’ to go just yet. Thankfully. Too many inspiring souls have gone in recent years.
A lifetime or so ago, I went to an exhibition relating to the soon to be released film Hellraiser. In a smallish upstairs room near Tottenham Court Road station (in the same building where, many years later, I was to finally meet Barker) were photos and props from the film. I remember the excitement, the anticipation, of what Barker’s first ‘proper’ film would be like. It was all quite low key and underground; this all happened before the Hollywood Barker industry began. He was even still living in London. One of the props – a full size model of Chatterer Cenobite – was especially fascinating. Wires pulled the lips back to reveal the Cenobite’s teeth and gums. The detail was incredible. I got close up, face to face, to study it properly and the ‘model’, who was, of course, actually an actor in full make up, moved a bit. It scared the wits out of me but come the film’s release you couldn’t keep me away.
I finished Mr B. Gone a while back, and since the novel was several years old when I got hold of it, I doubt there’s many out there with any interest in horror/dark fantasy/Clive Barker who haven’t read it and in the light of what happened to Barker in January it seems almost unimportant to write what I thought of it so I’ll keep it brief. I wonder if anyone else thought the opening section was reminiscent of Nick Cave’s And The Ass Saw The Angel? I was immediately reminded of it – first person narrative by a bizarre, misshapen creature who is inevitably going to meet a bad end. The biggest criticism of the book by others – the continual insistence by the protagonist that the book be burned – is a reasonable one. By the middle of the novel it became seriously frustrating to still be reading it. There is a whimsical air to the book as well in places and there were a few times I nearly stopped reading because of it, but then Barker would deliver some amazing prose, a piece of brilliance that made the book worth buying. Barker can still write horror, of that there’s no doubt, it’s just that in this novel he’s chosen to play with his protagonist, and therefore with the reader, instead of taking things much further. The fact that for at least half the book there appears to be no real story, just a demon running away from a series of enemies, is my biggest criticism. Barker has the talent and the wit to write the most amazing horror stories if he chooses to. Perhaps he’s grown away from the genre (and his recent illness might have a huge effect on his writing). Time will tell.
Far more interesting, and pertinent, than Mister B. Gone is an interview conducted in the middle of March, which appears on Barker’s website. The first part is entirely about his horrific near-death experience, which began on 10 January and from which he is still struggling to recover. I’ve only just read it myself and it shocked me to think how close we all were to losing him. It hasn’t changed my views about Death, but how one makes one’s way there is certainly something to feel cautious about. The second part of the interview changes tack and discusses the next Abarat and Clive’s absolute love of dogs throughout his life. Inevitably, perhaps, the loss of such beloved companions comes up, something I and many of us will certainly be able to relate to. So even if you have no huge interest in Barker’s books, I’d recommend reading the interview. All power to you, Clive, get well soon. And please dazzle us again with the kind of horror only you can write.