In the Flesh

Title: In the Flesh

Author: Cliver Barker

Summary: Terrifying and forbidding, subversive and insightful, Clive Barker’s groundbreaking stories revolutionized the worlds of horrific and fantastical fiction and established Barker’s dominance over the otherworldly and the all-too-real. Here, as two businessmen encounter beautiful and seductive women and an earnest young woman researches a city slum, Barker maps the boundless vistas of the unfettered imagination–only to uncover a profound sense of terror and overwhelming dread.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I disliked the last Clive Barker book i read enough that i didn’t think i’d ever pick up another. But when i discovered one of the creepiest films from my youth–Candyman–was based on Barker’s short story The Forbidden, i had to get my hands on a copy.

I was shocked and happy as soon as i started reading the first of the four stories, In the Flesh. It was instantly one of those stories where you know something isn’t right, where things aren’t what they seem, where there’s more to be revealed. It’s the kind of story that keeps my interest and keeps me reading. The characters were criminals, imprisoned, but they were sympathetic and likeable; i was scared for them and that had me invested in the story.

The second story was the one i’d been waiting for–The Forbidden. Much of it was familiar to me, having seen the Candyman film enough times. The creepy vibe of the film, and the Candyman himself in particular, came through in satisfying ways. But the story created even more, i think, than the film. The eerie, isolated feeling of the housing estate and the peculiar social structure are such banal things, but increase the macabre feeling in the story intensely. It draws on similar themes as High Rise, but with more of a horror twist and i loved it.

The Madonna is the third story in the book, and overall the weakest in a lot of ways. I hated the two main characters, so welcomed any nightmarish retribution that came their way. This was the one horror that i wanted to know more about, though. How did it/they end up inhabiting the pool? Do all their women come to them in the same way? What exactly happens to the creatures they raise? Where did they all go at the end? And in someways i think this was the story that dealt with more interesting themes and non-horror concepts. It’s the one story, maybe, that would work well as a longer story.

Lastly there was Babel’s Children. This one i liked a lot. It marked itself as different in almost every way from the other stories. It was obviously not a supernatural horror–it was a human one. Unlike The Madonna i feel like i got exactly the right amount of information to tell the story, without it begging more questions or being too full of answers. It was more like a mini adventure with an is-it-or-isn’t-it premise that was pretty delightful, actually. All the characters were likeable and it even made me smile. The end wasn’t sombre, but it did have weight and an unspoken captivity.

With not one story i didn’t enjoy, compared to the 700+ novel that failed to engage me, it’s clear Barker is a far, far more accomplished short story teller. While i’m unlikely to pick up one of his novels, i won’t hesitate to jump into another of his short story collections.

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Weaveworld

weaveworldcoverTitle: Weaveworld.

Author: Clive Barker.

Summary: Weaveworld is the stuff of which classics are made. It begins with a carpet – a wonderous, magnificent carpet – into which a world has been woven. But as the carpet begins to unravel, Clive Barker takes us to a place where we have seldom been in fiction – places terrifying and miraculous.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: This book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. I didn’t dread picking up to continue reading, but there was no excitement about doing so, either. Once i’d started, i kept reading to finish it, not because i wanted to know what happened.

First, the characters. There were a lot of them, over the course of the 700-odd pages. Of all of them, i cared about exactly one. Cal. He’s the first character introduced, and for me, the only truly selfless person in the book. He’s a normal guy. He’s suffering through the death of his mother and the mental deterioration of his father. He has a job and a girlfriend. Then he stumbles (quite literally) upon a carpet with a world inside it. From then on, it’s all choice for Cal. He chooses to become, and continue to be, involved with this world and its people.

It’s not that i didn’t like Suzanna. It’s that i just didn’t really care about her. She was dragged into the drama and this other world—the Fugue—by her grandmother, by her history and by supernatural powers. She becomes part of the other world in a way Cal can’t, and she also becomes powerful. But i found her quite dull, to be honest.

There are numerous baddies in this story. The most prolific of which is Shadwell. The fact that he is the enduring bad guy throughout the book is completely unsatisfying to me. He’s a cuckoo with no clue and a fancy jacket. How is he not offed within the first half of the book? He’s a nasty bastard, but he’s not significantly powerful at all.

Immacolata may—may—be my second favourite character. She was much more interesting than the rest. Her powers were strong and varied, but always vague and unspecified. Her sisters i was indifferent to, but as a trio they made for quite an intimidating force. The fact the three of them were bestest before (and in one case, by) Shadwell, i simply can’t believe.

None of the characters from the Fugue caught my attention enough to make me care about them. They were introduced and killed off throughout the course of the book, but they all felt like bit-characters that were introduced simply to kill them off. There was not a single death in this book that touched my emotions at all. Save perhaps for Immacolata, and that mostly because it seemed a shame to kill of one of the few interesting characters.

The last, the most built up and possibly the most disappointing character was the Scourge. The thing the people of the Fugue are terrified of, the thing they weave their world into a carpet to hide from, the thing they know nothing about. The Scourge has been hiding in the middle of the largest desert in the world and has forgotten about the Fugue entirely. Until some cuckoo salesman comes and reminds him. (Remind me why the Scourge doesn’t kill Shadwell? Really, why?) The Scourge then goes to hunt down everyone from the Fugue and burn them alive. But he’s actually easy beaten by the snow and a fancy jacket.

Anticlimaxes are another thing this book had in abundance. Generally, the story would meaner along with not much happening. Hunt down the carpet for over 100 pages, forget the wonders experienced/hide the carpet for over 100 pages, get on with life without the Fugue for over 100 pages… Occasionally, something mildly exciting would happen. I say mildly, because each time it felt like it was simply a prelude to something more dramatic, but it never delivered. The excitement was cut short and never fully explored. The carpet was unwoven, revealing the Fugue, only to be re-woven before anything worthwhile had happened. The Fugue was once again unwoven, and an attempted take over began, only for the details to be overlooked and the Fugue soon destroyed. The Scourge was awoken and on a rampage, only for the final battle to be a couple of one-on-one imitation psychological mind games.

There was so much in the book. So many people and wonders described, but none of them were put to a good enough use to be interesting to me. Really, this book just seemed like Barker showing off all the wonders his imagination can produce, but not actually doing anything with them. For example, a mountain that fulfils desires? Great! They sleep there, he dreams he’s the moon, they move on. The point? Then there were things that seemed to play a part in the story, but were never given enough explanation for my liking. Suzanna is gifted a German book of fairy tales by her grandmother. It shows no special significance until it pulls two people inside of it, who act out a few tales before being pulled from it again. Then it’s used to hold two people’s memories of the Fugue. How? What? I like fantasy, but i like it to have its own rules and explanations, not simply be randomly fantastical.

They were a few instances of interesting foreshadowing, for example Cal meeting (what he at the time did not know to be) his older self in the Fugue at a place where the past and future overlap. Though the fact it was his older self was ridiculously obvious, and the reveal of it was dragged out over half the book did spoil the effect somewhat.

I won’t talk about the cases of awfully unsubtle representation of gender, most notably Immacolata and Suzanna’s powers—their menstruum—being a part of them, but some how uncontrollable and emitting itself from between their legs.

I won’t talk about the attempted dramatically astonishing ending which involved the not-quite-thought-out and wholly unwise decision to recreate the Fugue from inside a house in the middle of Birmingham.

Overall, i can see so much potential in this book. The ideas, the concepts and the characters could all make an amazing story. I just think the execution of that failed miserably. Barker lost the important things in the details of the insignificant; in his insistence to tell rather than show. I’m disappointed this book wasn’t better, because it so easily could have been.