As a writer myself, if I had to name the most major influence on my own style of work, Clive Barker would be the one to jump directly into mind. When I first read him, I said to myself, “That’s how I want to write.”
I’ve bounced all around genres trying to find a way to get published, and Barker’s style of internal dialogue is always there; his deep, vivid descriptions of the landscape prevails. I’m not saying I pull it off as well as he does, but I certainly try. Once I went with horror writing, I realized where my home is, and it is due largely in part to the influence of Clive Barker.
Everything that I love about Mr. Barker is contained within the short stories of In the Flesh: the nightmarish horror that bends the very air around it; the surreal mythos that seek no apologies for being morbid and disturbing; the unabashed propensity towards violence and the grotesque; the living breathing characters of both good and evil; the seedy urban backdrops detailed into life by the author; and the entrancing tales of struggles against insurmountable situations written in the prose of someone who sees beauty in agony and poetry in pain. When it comes to horror storytelling, there is no author as masterful as he.
With that said, I loved all four tales in this book. I will offer here a review of each:
“In the Flesh”: Darkness confined to a space no larger than a closet, yet Barker expands it beyond the limits of imagination by creating a harrowing, dream-like city for the damned and the depraved. Here he creates fright on a whole new level with a chilling backdrop to paint his visions of pain and suffering. I wish he would give us more stories from this City of Killers because it is fascinating enough to warrant its own legends and chronicles.
“The Forbidden: This is the origin of the infamous 90’s Hollywood slasher known as the Candyman. Set in the dregs of a rundown London slum, this tale shows Barker’s appreciation for the downtrodden and the decomposing icons of man’s mighty failures, seen through the eyes of a curious woman fixated on the graffiti murals sprayed across the crumbling architecture of a forgotten and partially-abandoned area of town. I find the setting to be one of gorgeous misery and almost folkloric squalor worthy of a horrifying urban epic. It is an ideal place for the supernatural madman with a knack for eviscerating his victims and removing bits of them to leave behind hacked-up husks of their former selves. Although no back-story of the Candyman is offered, it adds a spicy mystique to his being, making him both frightening and fascinating. I certainly wish Barker would have expanded on the character. But, I am happy with the tiny piece of deadly sweetness that he gave us.
“The Madonna”: Undoubtedly my favorite of the collection. The concept contained in the tale’s central narrative is one that is personal to me and my beliefs. It almost makes me feel connected to the author as it appears we may share similar views on such things. The world he creates in this magical tale of fearsome fantasy carries so much depth and potential that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read an entire 600-1000+ page novel on the world and the characters and the myths. What he gives to us is a thought-provoking, enticing scenario of creation and mankind’s role in it. The lure of Feminine Superiority and dominance is a theme that appeals greatly to me, and the play on the fantastical stories about mermaids or Succubae or angels gives an air of classic fairytales, but only told from the shadows: the parts of the stories parents leave out to keep their children from becoming captives to nightmares. I loved this story and was dying to read further.
“Babel’s Children”: This short-fiction stands out from the rest in the sense that it doesn’t delve into the twisted and agonized, or the Hellish or wicked. But, it doesn’t fall short on the bizarre meter as it is actually quite a what-if scenario that is excruciatingly horrifying, but also very plausible. Sometimes, if you really take a look at what goes on in the world, you could honestly see the plot of this story not being far from reality. But, this story begins as more of a suspense-thriller and ends under the guise of government-conspiracy-action novel. Either way, I felt this was a satisfying end to the book considering it ended on a note that felt very satiating and didn’t make the reader pine for the rest of the tale.
So, I continue to thoroughly enjoy Barker’s work, and even more see why he is my favorite author. I look forward to reading more of his stuff as time goes on.