I’ve mostly finished the first three books of Clive Barker’s collection, and found the stories gruesome, fun, and well written. Some of them were excellent (The Midnight Meat Train, Rawhead Rex), a few were so far fetched as to beggar belief and annoy me (In The Hills, The Cities was particularly aggravating), but they all displayed a vivid imagination and a penchant for the obscene and revolting.
I choose my words carefully, because as I stated before, Barker locates the source of his horror in the fact that we are made of flesh. Flesh that can be torn, rended, cut, slashed, burnt, brutalized. The characters in his short stories often lose their minds, but usually as a result of the torture and disfigurement they witness or are subjected to. There is a deep fascination with the human body, with its liquids and solids, its bones and marrow. It is in our fragility that Barker finds his horror, and for that reason, while fun to reason, I found the collection limited.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic writer, but I require more than brutal lacerations to really get hooked. And some of his stories do feature more; The Yattering and Jack for example is a match of wits between a damned man and his personal devil, while Son of Celluloid is about the nexus between adulation and illusion. But at the core of most of his stories lies flesh and blood and what can be done to it, whereas I am more interested in the stresses applied to the mind.
Also, interestingly enough, Barker links extreme violence and foulness to sex. Over and over again his protagonists experience surprising erections as they are confronted or submerged or pressed against physical evil. Sex and fear, sex and mutilation, a current of the erotic runs throughout his stories, his characters unwittingly aroused by the things they see and experience. It is not necessarily their minds which engage with the stimuli, but their bodies; reacting autonomously to that which repulses them, betraying their arousal and interest even while they scream or beg for death.
All in all, Clive Barker’s short stories are well written, at times absorbing (I missed my subway stop once while reading one of his stories), and display a morbid and brilliant imagination. While not exactly my cup of tea, they were fun to read, and I recommend them to horror fans everywhere.
Go the Clive Barker of the 80’s!