Have you read this book?
Now I’m not one for dipping into books in the middle, or reading a couple of pages of a short story then moving on. In the words of the immortal Magnus Magnusson, if I’ve started something I prefer to finish it. Which makes my affection for this tome, basically a collection of extracts from novels, plays and shorts, all the more puzzling. Though when you consider the author is one Barker, Clive, maybe it’s not that hard to understand at all.
The celebrated writer (of novels such as The Damnation Game, Cabal, The Great and Secret Show, Sacrament and Galilee), artist, playwright (Colossus, The History of the Devil, Crazyface…) and film-maker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions…) has personally chosen these forays into his weird and wonderful worlds, from the magical Fugue — a realm hidden within the strands of an ancient carpet — to the phenomenal Dominions of The Imajica; from the monster underworld known as Midian, to the shores of the dream sea, Quiddity…. There is much to relish here, divided into thirteen themed segments that reflect many of Barker’s preoccupations from well over twenty years in the business (Doorways, Journeys, Visions and Dreams, Lives, Old Humanity, Bestiary, Love, Terrors, The Body, Worlds, Making and Unmaking, Memory and Art) — each one thoughtfully and painstakingly prefaced.
But perhaps the most welcome addition is the thirty page introduction by Barker, Private Legends, in which he reveals some of his inspirations: incidents in his life that have made him the man – the visionary – he is today. This includes telling us about the time when, as a four-year-old, he witnessed Leo Valentin the “Bird Man” parachutist tumbling to his death during an air show (look out for the winged man references in his work), and his first encounter with Jean Cocteau’s films on TV in 1960, a man he calls “The Magician”. However, his description of nursing a dying baby dolphin in Hawaii, stranded in the shallows near his beach house, has to be the most affecting interlude from his private life (“I kept looking at his bright black eyes, wondering what he saw of me…”). There’s no doubt about it, all this definitely adds another dimension to Barker’s fiction, giving us an unparalleled insight into his creative processes.
And so what of his fiction? Well, the 576 page compilation contains a considered range of excerpts from his books and plays, as well as some self-contained stories: ‘The Forbidden’ (my all-time favorite Barker tale — filmed as Candyman), the masterful ‘In the Hills, the Cities’, the surreal ‘Jacqueline Hess: Her Will and Testament’ and little-seen ghost fable ‘The Departed’ (previously published in the New York Times and Best New Horror 4) — all this plus an informative bibliography taking in the whole of his literary back-catalog. But make no mistake, The Essential Clive Barker is so much more than the sum of its parts. Rather than a hasty concoction designed to rip off readers and oil the cogs of the author’s merchandising machine, this comes across as a vibrant entity in its own right and deserves to rank as part of his official canon. A useful taster for those poor lost souls who have not yet bathed in the radiance of this ‘mapmaker of the mind’ (The Washington Times), and if you’re already a follower then it will make you want to go back and re-read everything the man has ever written — enough to keep you going until the new Books of Blood come out.
In short an essential purchase for any lover of the Grand Guignol or fantastique.