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I have always been a massive Clive Barker fan, his work seems to stand out for me and different in many ways. My partner has had this book for some time now so I decided to give it a another read.
Since his debut novel in the 80's, Clive Barker's name has become synonymous with the Hellraiser series. Prior to this, Barker had already released six volumes of short stories entitled the Books of Blood. This is the work which established him as a future icon in the horror genre. This review will be focusing on the first volume in the Books of Blood series, which contains six individual tales.
This volume serves as an introduction not only to Barker's work, but to the whole premise of the Books of Blood. All of the stories are of varying length, ranging from 10 pages to 50. I will try not to go into too much depth of each story, and will only to try give each one an outline.
Books of Blood: v.1: Vol 1 - Clive Barker:
The Book of Blood:
This is the story where everything begins. A young boy is hired by a supernatural investigator to sit in an abandoned house, rumoured to be a playground for the souls of the afterlife, and report any ghostly sightings or experiences. The boy begins to fake his experiences, much to the joy of the investigators. However, the boy's foul play is in jest, as the restless souls of the dead soon become unhappy with his actions, and seep through the walls of the house to attack him. The stories in the Books of Blood are tales written by the dead upon the corpse of this young boy.
'After a lifetime of waiting, here it was: the revelation of life beyond flesh, written in flesh itself.'
This story stands alone as a short tale of horror and cruelty, and is one of the shortest in the entire series of books. However, it is one of my favourites due to it being the framework for the rest of the books. All of horror's most loved subjects are present here, including obsession, lust and betrayal. This story is also brought to completion in the very last story in the series in book six.
The Midnight Meat Train -
Already adapted in a movie of the same name, this is the story of a young photographer who has moved to New York City to chase his dreams. Very similar to what Clive Barker himself did as a young man trying to make it big. This story, then, draws on personal experiences of Barker, which makes it even more fulfilling.
While searching for success, Leon Kaufman becomes sidetracked in New York by the horrific murders occurring on the subway late at night. In a tale drawing on several Lovecraftian elements such as obsession, hidden knowledge and secret societies, we are treated to one of the more visceral stories in the series. The story takes on a very bleak tone throughout, focusing on the gritty underside to NYC. The main character is a wonderful protagonist, and we feel for him immensely. We feel his despair when his dreams are on the verge of being lost and want his journey to NYC to have a culmination. His motives are clear throughout, and this makes his journey even more compelling.
The Yattering and Jack -
In contrast to the seedy city underbelly described of the previous story, The Yattering and Jack is quite a comedic story about a demon sent to live with a poor man named Jack Polo. It is the demon's job to annoy Jack in the most creative ways possible, and finally get Jack to reach breaking point. This is perhaps the most bizarre story in the series, with a demented black comedy undertone. The Yattering is not able to physically touch Jack himself, therefore he has to find unique methods to torture him. This involves killing his many cats and annoying his children. The Yattering's frustration, however, comes from Jack's indifference to his torture, and simply learns to live with the Yattering's mischief. Why he has came to this abrupt acceptance is never told, and leaves us guessing if Jack is just stupid or is oblivious to everything happening around him. Barker has always touched on black comedy in all of his books since, and works great in moderation.
Pig Blood Blues -
I read this story several years ago, and I can still remember the specifics in all its macabre detail. One of the few stories which left me disturbed after putting the book down, and perhaps the most brutal story of all of Barker's works. A former policeman begins working in a young offender's institute, and not many of the people there seem to like him, adults and kids alike. Redman, the officer, comes across a young boy, Lacey, getting his head stomped on by a fellow inmate and from therein begins their relationship. Lacey confides in Redman and discusses his hardships at the prison, and Redman promises to help Lacey no matter what. Lacey, however, is not so sure he can be helped, as according to him there is no escaping "Henessey".
Henessey was of course, a young boy who escaped the prison, but then came back to commit suicide in the pig sty. Rumour has it that his spirit is still lingering in the giant pig who lives in there.
All of this makes for fascinating reading, and I promise that this story will stay with you once the pages have stopped turning. This one is often cited by Barker enthusiasts as some of his best work, and is possibly his bleakest story to date.
Sex, Death and Starshine -
This was the one story in the book which didn't hit me with the same impact as the rest of the stories. Terry Calloway is directing a play of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in a disused theatre, and the production is not going well. The mysterious Mr. Lichfield arrives at the theatre and tells the actors that their production will be the last. He also wants the producer to replace the leading lady, Viola, however, Terry is having an affair with her. This story I thought was overlong, and soon became difficult to follow. The parts I managed to keep up with were an eerie ghost story, which I believe drew on Barker's experiences as a playwright previous to his short story / novel writing.
In The Hills, The Cities -
This is by far my favourite story in the entire series. Trying to explain this story to someone is difficult due to the extreme imagery presented. I still find it difficult after many re-reads! In this story, two gay men are on vacation in Europe, and are first discovering their small tolerance for each other. What these two men aren't aware of is that the city they're passing through is the location of a secret event. 'Ancient and ceremonial battle,' is how Barker describes it, keeping it purposely vague. We soon learn the two opposing cities are erecting real-life giants out of the citizens living there, and are preparing to fight each other.
We are told this story from multiple points of view, including both of the men. This leads to conflicting opinions as we are unsure who to be supportive of. They both end up, however, in the midst of the battle between the two giants.
This whole story is wonderfully told, and one of the greatest short stories ever written I believe.
Price and Availability:
You can pick this book up for around £3.99 and if your lucky a charity shop, Amazon market place is another good one to look.
Too say too much about each individual story would be to give too much away, therefore I've tried to keep it as short as possible! I can't recommend the series enough, especially to any avid readers. What really got me into Clive Barker was the film Candyman and well I've been 'hooked' ever since.
Five out five stars from me
Thank you for reading.
Paperback: 213 pages
Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 Jan 1988)