Friday, 4 September 2015

The Scotsman Abroad | On Barker's Bite

Remember when Clive Barker mattered? 
Time was, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Stephen King and his kith and kin as one of the heavy hitters of popular horror. In the late '80s and all through the '90s, his seamless weaving of the stuff of sex together with the inevitable perversity of death led to a string of critical and commercial successes including Weaveworld, Cabal, Imagica and Everville. But over the years, the man became a brand. The macabre amalgam of visceral violence and exotic erotica that set his narratives apart from the pack at the start had, by the time of its samey culmination in Coldheart Canyon, diminished his fiction. Barker was about to lose his bite—such that it was a relief, really, when he changed gears completely.
As a long time admirer of the aforementioned author, and a die-hard fan of the Hellraiser franchise—up to and including the stupidest sequels—I had high hopes for The Scarlet Gospels, which sees Clive Barker taking ownership of the High Priest of Pain for the first time since, I think, the first of the films.

If anything, my expectations were raised when, after something like a decade on the drawing board, The Scarlet Gospels saw the light of day this past May—and what do you know? It was relatively well received. Most of the reviews I perused were good going on great, so when I finally got around to reading Barker's first proper horror novel—excepting Mister B. Gone and the Abarat books—in nearly fifteen years, I was basically beside myself with excitement.

And you know what? That first chapter? Fucking. Fantastic. Classic Clive Barker.

But from there on out, I'm afraid, The Scarlet Gospels is "business as usual, at best." And the rest of the time, "it reads like an unsightly reminder of a writer past his prime."

Strange Horizons has my full review. Please do click on through.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I know that enjoyment was tempered by his long absence from the world of horror. Had this come out on the heels of Everville, it would have been a disappointment, but it's true that absence does make the heart grow fonder.

    That said, I do wonder where the book he originally teased has gone. Based on his notes over the years, I suspect there was another Imajica level epic put down on paper, but it got edited down from 232,000 words to 100,000 words, and all the big, controversial, mythological elements fell by the wayside.

  2. I saw a lot of reviews basically saying the same thing, that the first chapter rocked and after that it was a big letdown. I decided to find out for myself a couple months back and... I tend to agree, though I didn't even find the first chapter to be super-fantastic. I didn't get too far into it when I decided not to disappoint myself further by reading on. The "snappy dialogue" that sounded like a bad TV show really killed it for me.
    My last Barker readings go back about 12 or more years to The Great and Secret Show and Everville, which were awesome. Maybe they'll be my last...