Of all the authors that my mom did not want me discovering when the bookmobile came to school, she singled out Stephen King. If she had known that I was also reading Clive Barker (creator of Hellraiser) on the side, she almost certainly would have marked him as public enemy number one. This was mainly because I was a sensitive scaredy-cat who ran into my parent’s bed every time I made the voluntarily mistake of reading a horror book that I couldn’t forget. I simultaneously loved and hated the way scary stories made me feel, and nothing was more disturbing and entrancing to that big-headed kid (me) than the Books of Blood by Clive Barker.
I first read these in one volume. It took me about one weekend to read every single story at least once. And then I would lie in my bed absolutely wild-eyed as I thought about the stories and images. oh, this might be a good time to mention that Books of Blood is a collection of short horror stories that are wonderful, horrible, and memorable. There are six volumes to the book, but the copy I see for sale most often now has all of them in one.
Even as a Clive Barker fan, he is one of those authors who, when a new book comes out, I have no idea if I’ll love it or hate it. On the level of imagination, however, I always know what I’m going to get: for better or worse, he has a knack for coming up with things that surprise me. Images and ideas that are so far outside of what is often considered “creative” that I can only admire it, even when I don’t really enjoy a book.
But I enjoyed (and still enjoy) Books of Blood. In no other collection that I know of can you find something as bizarre as the story “In The Hills, The Cites.” In this story a couple of hikers come upon a couple of cities fighting each other in the hills. Each city is made entirely of thousands and thousands of people who are bound together by ropes and pulleys into a gigantic figure in the shape of a human.
In The Midnight Meat Train, there is something extremely sinister waiting at the end of the New York subway line–and no, it is not a free screening of the okay-but-not-as-good 2008 film of the same way.
Dread is my favorite story from the collection, and also my least favorite. It is also the one I am constantly seeing in anthologies as the representation of Barker’s scary/sensual writing. It is about the nature of fear. Specifically, about the experiments a rather creepy individual conducts to see how people react to their greatest fears. He gets his, though, don’t worry.
Horror stories can become the tritest of the trite when authors don’t put much imagination into it. Clive Barker is able to walk ground that is often familiar–serial killers, monsters, hauntings, etc–and still render it unrecognizable and fresh.
There is a mood to these books that I’m not doing justice to here, but that’s only because Barker truly does his own thing, not to get too technical-sounding about it. When something is as original as some of these stories are, any review is just going to flail around trying to recreate it.
So I’ll just leave it at that. If you like to read horror, short stories, or are just in the Halloween spirit, please give Books of Blood a try. If you need one final prompt or clue, most fans of Stephen King books that I know also like the majority of Barker’s work.