Little tales, told at night
Books of Blood, volumes 1 – 3
ISBN:0 75151022 X
Did you ever look through a kaleidoscope as a kid? Do you remember twisting the end to make the little bright jewels and beads inside fall into different patterns? Remember how some of the patterns where better than others, even though they were all beautiful – some of the patterns inside were just a little on the dull side, and although they were all pretty, some just didn’t have that certain something.
Books of Blood is a little bit like that. Some of the stories enclosed in the three-volume set (the Books were originally published as individuals, and then combined at a later stage, which is apparently how Clive Barker had intended to publish them all along) are amazing – descriptive, interesting subject matter, good character development. I wouldn’t say that they were strictly scary – some of them are certainly creepy, but I can read them before bed without any ill effects. However, some of them are rote, or done better by other writers (The Yattering and Jack being a case in point – that whole concept was much better done by C.S Lewis in The Screwtape Letters).
Is it just me? Am I getting a bit jaded with horror? I can’t see how – I’m really only just getting back into reading it after a long time away. As a kid, I always had a problem with crazy bad dreams, the sort of dreams that you wake up from and don’t get back to sleep again that night (as well as the sort that twist you up and make you yell yourself awake… not very fun). Add in the anxiety-induced asthma, and suffice to say that it wasn’t a good combination. I seem to have found ways around that over the years, but one of those ways has been to avoid stuff which I think will set my mind racing. I say has been, because I’m not doing that anymore – I’m trying to utilise my imagination, rather than allowing it to shackle me.
So, blah blah, literary liberation. Getting back on topic, Clive Barker is one half of the authors that bought Black House into being. Black House (which was co-authored by Stephen King) is the only book which as an adult, I reflexively slammed shut because it was so freakin’ scary. Actually, I slammed it shut and hurled it across the room. Where it sat, laughing at me, like the fat black terror it is. Once I calmed myself down, I finished reading it, but as an example of cthonian horror, it’s pretty hard to beat. Both Barker and King have had their writing compared to H. P. Lovecraft, and I think that this book is the one that they both come closest to the ‘feel’ that Lovecraft imparts in his work.
There are bits of that feeling around the edges of Books of Blood 1, but for me, it doesn’t really do it. There’s something about it that pulls it’s punches, which isn’t so great. Most of his character’s I found quite interesting, but their relationships more so. He likes to explore the pleasure/pain reflex (I have The Hellbound Heart on the reading list, it’s sitting there right beside my bed, ready to go after I finish this one, and apparently that one is full of that stuff), which is evident from a few of the stories in Book 1, but things don’t really get interesting until Books 2 and 3. Almost like he was just trying it on for size first of all, then decided to go with the whole three piece suit. There are good stories in Book 1, don’t get me wrong – I loved The Midnight Meat Train and Book of Blood the best, and some of the others have their moments too.
If you’re a horror buff, I’d say go read these if you haven’t already. Of course, there is some dopey stuff in there, stuff that you’ll be able to see coming a mile off (I’m looking at you, Pig Blood Blues), so they’re pretty good if you wanted to start reading horror too, but be warned – these stories build in the creep factor as you go through the book. I like the way that Clive Barker writes, it’s less casual, more… literary, I guess, but not above rolling about in the mud a little with the subject matter (and you know that I’m not adverse to a little mud – hell, a lot of mud even). As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have The Hellbound Heart of his to read next, and I started (but never really got going on) The Great and Secret Show, which I’m quite looking forward to. I think that after Hellbound Heart I’ll try some of his fantasy driven stuff, but I’d certainly recommend Books of Blood – they’re nice easy sizes too, good for finishing off on a rainy, or even better, a thundery Sunday afternoon.