Like a lot of people, my first exposure to Clive Barker was not through literature. It wasn’t even through film, exactly. It was through the VHS cover to Hellraiser, one of the most terrifying images to ever be plastered in plain view of the children’s aisle at Blockbuster. The image contained the obvious visceral horror of someone getting dozens of nails hammered into his face, but more than that it contained a stranger subtler horror. It was in its geometry. The idea of having all those nails hammered into your face carefully and precisely. An older wiser Babalugats might have described the image as fetishistic, but as a boy it was more than I could wrap my mind around, and the movie I imagined it was attached to was nothing but wall to wall sadism and torture.
When I finally actually saw Hellraiser, it was a very different film, full of melancholy and longing. It wasn’t that the guy with all the nails in his head had been tortured, he wanted them there. By then I had learned the word fetishistic. The movie still has it’s viscera, but it’s a different kind of horror, and it sticks with you in a different way than the typical cheap 80s monster flick. Still, although Clive Barker is a talented filmmaker with a real gift for making complicated mythologies feel authentic, mysterious, and lived in, his films didn’t necessarily suggest a great literary talent. They work largely off the visuals and the atmosphere, and feature fairly simple plotting and dialogue.
And so when I finally did sit down with one of his books, I was once again shocked by the artist I encountered. Everything I like about Barker’s films; the melancholy, the seductive horror, the feeling of brushing up against something far greater than your understanding and being transformed by it, the subtle details that make his mythologies and secret cultures feel authentic and lived in – it’s all not only present on the page, but better realized there. And beyond the ideas of his work, he is a Great writer in the simpler sense. A great stylist. His prose is easy and elegant and evocative. He has a masterful control over tone. His characters are sharply drawn, he has a real eye for detail without ever losing the pace of the story, and everything just flows beautifully.
Books of Blood Vol 1 was Clive Barker’s debut literary work (though he had already established himself as a playwright before his literary and later film career began). Barker arrives as fully formed as any author I’ve encountered and Books Of Blood was an immediate success, christening Barker as a capital-E Essential horror author overnight. The stories in this anthology range from funny, to bizarre, to gruesome, to haunting, but they all reflect Barker’s entirely distinctive voice. There are 6 total anthologies released as Books Of Blood with the first 3 volumes often sold as a single omnibus, but we’re only going to be covering Volume 1 here. I hope you all enjoy yourselves, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Warning to the sensitive and the squeamish: This book includes both explicit sexuality and explicit gore. In my hazy memory, the first story is the roughest, so if you make it through that ok, you’ll probably be fine the rest of the way. But Barker’s writing isn’t for everyone, and he doesn’t shy away from the visceral details.
The Solute Book Club – easy to join! Simply read The Books of Blood, Volume 1 by Clive Barker and join us here for a discussion article on, appropriately, October 31st.