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The Thief Of Always
Clive Barker's The Thief Of Always - Kris Oprisko
Member Name: marandina
Clive Barker's The Thief Of Always - Kris Oprisko
Date: 28/02/02, updated on 02/03/02 (1637 review reads)
Advantages: Wonderful introduction to the works of a genius
Disadvantages: Only available as used via Amazon or maybe try e-bay?
Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer. I learned to read at a relatively young age and have had a love affair with books ever since. Whilst at school I discovered a penchant for writing too. This manifested itself as a series of rapidly written narratives that were produced at light speed. One of my failings was patience. Once I got going I would write so quickly that my handwriting eventually looked like a series of horizontal lines, which only I could decipher. I’ve always wanted to write seriously but simply haven’t had the time coupled with an inert fear of not being good enough anyway.
What’s that got to do with a book review, you ask? Well, every writer needs inspiration. This may be from other writers; it may be from friends and relatives. Either way, there will come along one particular author who will make a profound impression on you. For me this was Clive Barker.
Clive Barker was born in Liverpool in 1952. He lived on social security benefits for many years before making his breakthrough into the world of books. His earlier works include The Books of Blood, The Damnation Game, Weaveworld and Cabal. Following his fame, he branched out into the world of illustrating, directing and producing for stage and screen. His films include the Hellraiser films, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions and the Candyman movies amongst others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
The first book I ever read by Barker was Weaveworld. This is a truly astounding piece of writing. I would have dearly loved to have reviewed it here but my wife lent it to a friend a number of years ago and it has never been returned. However, a wonderful book to stand in its place is The Thief Of Always.
Clive Barker is one of the few authors I know that could write a book and call it a fable. From articles I've read he uses a method that captures his dreams by keeping a dream diary by the side of his bed. When his subconscious
takes over during the dreaming stage of his sleep cycle he can awake and capture the dream in note form to include in one of his stories. This means that he can produce stories and images from the opaque depths of the ocean of his mind.
Barker has a vivid imagination. Whilst the masters and mistresses of macabre: King, Rice, Lumley, Herbert and Lamon are all great storytellers that have a fantastic talent for weaving in strands of horror, Barker's stories exist in the nether world of his psyche. They find their way to the surface easing through the ether of the darkest recesses of his mind to emerge triumphantly as imaginative sets that straddle creation and subvert the notion of time.
The Thief Of Always is a short book. It only lasts 229 pages. It is unusual in that it proclaims itself as a fable but when you begin to absorb it you can see what Barker is getting at by moving away from the more conventional label of a story.
The story opens with the breathless lines "The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter." This is typical of the bold use of metaphors that exemplify Barker's writing.
The rest of the plot is literally fantastic. Harvey Swick is a bored child who is found sitting absently in his bedroom watching the rain drops on his windows. He lacks direction and wonders whether there is more to life than school. Along comes Rictus who makes a grand entry floating in through Harvey's bedroom window. To all intents and purposes, Rictus looks like any other man being "...no more than six inches taller than Harvey, his face scrawny, his skin distinctly yellow in colour." The idea of his visit is to entice Harvey to Mr Hood's Holiday House, which is a kind of Pleasure Island from the Pinocchio story. The house "...ha
s stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful round of treats and seasons, where every childish whim may be satisfied."
Rictus persuades Harvey to follow him to the house. Whilst knowing the small town of Millsap well, Harvey loses his sense of direction during the journey and is eventually confronted with a wall surrounded by fog. Harvey is lured in by the prospect of Mrs Griffin the housekeeper awaiting his arrival with all manner of culinary treats to satisfy his every desire. Mrs Griffin becomes more eminent later in the story, as her dark secret is unravelled. An Alice in Wonderland element is added to the mix in the shape of the house cats: Blue-Cat, Stew-Cat and Glue-Cat. Sadly, one of them suffers an ignominious death involving a saucepan of boiling water.
Harvey finds his Nirvana. It's not long before he has made new friends in the shape of Lulu and Wendell and their daily schedule descends into an ongoing merry go round of games and enjoyment. Bizarrely, the seasons come and go at an unimaginable pace. One day it's spring, the next it's summer and before they know it winter is upon them. The seasons are not bound by simple convention here.
The magic of the house and its ability to adapt to its guests is highlighted by the Christmas present that is given to Harvey. Uncannily, he finds an exact replica of a nativity scene that his father had made for him originally. Later on, Harvey finds himself at the insidious lake in the grounds. He can just make out strange forms swimming in the depths but they’re too deep to see clearly. He drops the set into the water and decides to retrieve them, pulling out quickly after feeling a strange effect taking hold the longer he remains in the water. This sequence is to later embroil Lulu and determine her future in a dramatic passage towards the end of the story.
Night-time paints a different pict
ure. Every night is Hallowe'en and the dark underbelly of the house begins to reveal itself. During that evening Harvey notices "...a form…moving silently against the sky, as if it had just launched itself from the eaves of the House." The disturbing secret of the house is leaked out slowly like a ticking time bomb that the reader knows will explode at some point but not when. This drives the tension as it mounts through each chapter.
Having played a rather gruesome trick on Harvey in the form of a dummy hanging from a noose, Harvey determines to get revenge on Wendell proclaiming, "All right...there'll be other nights." Wendell sums up the heart of the story in his reply "Always…That's what this house is...It's the House of Always."
The main protagonists in the story are the mysterious Hood’s minions in the form of Jive, Marr and Carna. These are the siblings of the manipulative Rictus and they are all very different. One night Jive persuades Harvey to adopt the persona of a vampire. He talks him into attacking Wendell but just as he is tempted to bite his friend he manages to pull out although uncomfortable at the thought of how much he enjoyed the experience.
After this the boys plot their escape. After an initial failure in which they find that entering the fog bound wall just results in them re-entering the grounds of the house, they are successful the second time around by holding each others hands to force them to remain in a straight line. However, during their escape they are persued by the flying monster called Carna who, in its desire to capture them, accidentally enters the normal world. Fortunately, it seems that Carna wasn’t built to survive in this environment and parts of its body start to spontaneously burst into flame. The creature limps back through the gate to stew on any future revenge that may come its way.
The boys return to their respect
ive parents but, to their horror, discover that each day in the Holiday House represents a year in their world. The clock has moved on 31 years and their parents are so much older. Harvey determines to get the lost years back and decides to return to the house with Wendell. That’s where I’ll leave it for you to ponder what happens after they return. So who is the mysterious Hood? What is at the bottom of the lake? What is Mrs Griffiths’ dark secret? What becomes of Lulu? What happened to all the previous children that visited the home? And what do the mischievous siblings have in store for the boys?
The second half of the book is as gripping as the first as Barker continues his eloquent tale that amounts to a gothic fantasy. The conclusion is every bit befitting of such a wondrous story and leaves the reader enthralled, wanting more.
The story has a moral at heart and seems to almost draw on The Wizard of Oz in its notion that there’s no place like home. However, unlike the said film, Barker writes in his wonderfully creative but dark manner to conjure up a Utopia for children with a sinister undercurrent of suspense.
Barker’s later works include Galilee, Imagica, Everville and The Great and Secret Show. All have a common theme and I feel that he becomes too expansive with these stories. He seems to be searching for the ultimate reason for existence itself and is obsessed with its link to an omnipresent magic that follows its own never ending story of double cross and intrigue. Whilst great stories, they lose the simple essence of his earlier work in concentrating on taking the reader through a thrilling journey into his imagination and scaring them to death in the process.
The Thief Of Always is a wonderful introduction to the works of a genius and is illustrated through out with gothic drawings at the end of each short chapter. The pictures reflect the content of the chapter and are typical of the
machinations of the Barker mind.
Clive Barker IS a genius. His works are revered by many and once you’ve discovered him, I’m sure you’ll agree that he is the master of his genre.
*The book is no longer in print but used versions are available at $30 through Amazon.com.
If you ask me very nicely, I may lend you mine but only if you promise to return it.
ISBN 0 –00 – 647311-3
Published by Harper Collins
My version was published in 1983 and cost £4.99
For those who are already fans then there is an official website at clivebarker.com. The homepage is predominantly black punctuated by a drawing of a beast looking down on a boy on the left hand side and details of his latest offering on the right (The dark Fantastic). In the middle of the page is the menu, which includes Member’s Macabre, Lost Souls Store, Membership Info, Lost Souls Staff, Queries and Comments, Clive Barker Yahoo Club, Photo Gallery, Visions Page and Web Rings. The site acts as a portal to several of his fan clubs and facilitates those wanting to contact the author. It is a very comprehensive; flash enabled site and is one of the best fansites I’ve seen for a while.
Thanks for reading
*Didn't realise it was out of print until I'd written the op. You could always try e-bay or there are copies available through Amazon but on a used basis. Sorry.
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