Clive Barker did not want his Books of Blood broken up into individual volumes when they were published, yet that is what happened. Now, the first three volumes are available in one book, serving as the perfect introduction to Barker's unique style of horror. There are some really groundbreaking stories included here, alongside of a dud or two from Volume Two, but each and every story exhibits the genius and originality of its author's dark vision.
The initial offering, The Book of Blood, stands out as a unique ghost story, but it also serves as a provocative abstract for everything Barker sought to accomplish with these stories. After this enticing introductory tale, we head below the streets of New York to sneak a ride on The Midnight Meat Train. This story is vintage Clive Barker, full of blood and gore. Barker isn't trying to drown the reader in blood as a means to hide any lack of skill on his part, though, because the skill is undeniably there for all to see. In The Yattering and Jack, a dark comedy farce, a poor demon does everything he can think of to make the unshakeable Jack miserable, driving himself almost mad in the process. I think of The Yattering and Jack as an amusing sort of Barker bedtime story. Pig Blood Blues forces the casual reader to once again don hip hugger boots for a trek into gore and depravity. At a certain school for wayward boys, the other white meat is not pork. Sex, Death and Starshine is a good story, touching upon the needs of the dead to be entertained every once in a while, but it lacks a certain oomph.
Dread is a somewhat sadistic tale of one man's obsession with death. His is a hands-on endeavor, as he seeks to look the beast directly in the eye by studying the effects of dread and the realization of imminent death in the eyes of his fellow man. Dread is a psychologically disturbing read, one which succeeds quite well indeed in spite of a rather pat ending. Hell's Event tells the story of a charity race, only this particular contest pits a minion of the underworld against human runners, with the control of the very government hinging upon the outcome. Next up is Jacqueline Ess: Her Last Will and Testament, a disappointing story in which the main character's special abilities to control the things and people around her wind up wasted. The Skins of the Fathers is not a bad story, but it is quite weird. A sometimes almost comical group of inhuman, bizarre creatures comes to a small desert town to reclaim one of their own, born five years earlier to a human mother. A puffed up sheriff and belligerent posse of townsfolk lend comic relief as much as tension to the story's plot of borderline absurdity.
I love the unusual premise and the surreal quality of Son of Celluloid. The back wall behind the screen of an old movie theatre has seen so many famous lives projected upon it that the essence of those screen legends has germinated within it. The only thing needed to bring the screen personalities to life is a catalyst, which comes in the form of a dying criminal. The man himself is of no consequence, but he has within him a force possessing a single-minded drive to grow and thrive. Next up is Rawhead Rex, one of Barker's more violent stories. There are creatures that thrived on earth long before man helped force them to the brink of extinction, and things get pretty gruesome when one fellow unknowingly unseals the prison in which such a monster has been sealed for eons. Murder of a more human kind rests at the heart of Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud. This tale doesn't succeed completely in my estimation, and some might even find it oddly laughable, as the main character is an amorphous blob of a dead man's essence who reconstitutes the form of his human body in a death shroud. Scape-Goats is a little island of death story, the most interesting aspect of which is its viewpoint; it is not often that Barker tells a tale from the first-person perspective of a woman. The final story, Human Remains, offers Barker's typically unusual slant on the old doppelganger motif.
I have saved the worst and best of the collected stories for special mention. New Murders in the Rue Morgue is by far the worst short story Barker has ever written. We are led to believe Poe's classic story The Murders in the Rue Morgue was based on fact, and now the modern representative of the Dupin blood finds himself mired in an extraordinary, eerily similar, and exceedingly ludicrous case of his own. On the flip side, the most impressive story told in these pages is In the Hills, the Cities. Two male lovers touring the hidden sights of Yugoslavia become the reluctant witnesses to a sight few men could ever even conceive of when a unique traditional battle between the citizens of two adjacent towns takes an unexpected and ever-so-destructive turn. If you want to know what the big deal about Clive Barker is, this is the story you need to read. Books of Blood immediately established Barker as a giant in the genre and should be required reading for all fans of extreme and intellectually challenging horror.
on May 26, 2005
Years ago, around '86 or '87 a friend of mine in High School turned me on to a then unknown Englishman by the name of Clive Barker. I was a complete Stephen King junkie at the time and this friend of mine said, dude, you gotta read this guy's stuff...he's un-f*cking-real! I kinda wrinkled my nose and shook my head. Read some no-name's book...pleeze. But I trusted this friend with his opinions and while browsing around one day at a local B. Dalton bookstore I came across a hardcover copy of In The Flesh by Mr. Barker on the under $5.00 table. What the heck. It bought it and read it and....Jeezus! The Forbidden still haunts me to this day. But that small dose of Barker was only the beginning. A few months later I had the luck of finding (on the same under $5.00 table in the same bookstore) a harcover copy of The Books Of Blood. Now, in England, The Books Of Blood were arranged in volumes I through VI by a little outfit called Sphere Ltd, but Stateside, they were broken up into Volumes I through III, The Inhuman Condition, In The Flesh and finally at the end of the novel Cabal. Anyway, I took the book home and started to read the short stories represented there one by one. Astonishing. Nothing I had ever read before would prepare me for what Clive Barker was up to. Never before had I witnessed such abominations, such cruelties, such acts of horrifying and engrossing carnal abberations. He scared me more than a little. Great God, where had this guy come from? Stephen King was praising him on the jacket of every book he printed and rightly so. This guy was the new messiah of the modern horror story. Nowhere had I read such raw, brutal and fresh ideas. Nothing cliche here. The stories encompassing all of the orginal Books Of Blood are awesome from "Midnight Meat Train" all the way to "How Spolers Bleed" at the end of Cabal. These stories are definitely a work of genius. All these years later and I haven't missed a Barker publication yet. Still, though, once in a while, I go back (as I do with Stephen King's earlier novels) and reread them. Books Of Blood is not for the squeamish and neither is Clive Barker. He wasn't afraid to eviscirate someone back then or to report pornographic couplings and he isn't afraid to do so now. Visionary. Imaginative. Original. The Books Of Blood rock on all levels!
on April 24, 2000
As one person who wrote a review for this, I am an avid horror reader. But, unlike that same person, I love this book. Chilling, though-provoking, and yes, even a little bit funny. These tales really get in under your skin, literally! I liked most of the stories, but some where not good. I shall now tell you about my favorite tales.
"The Book of Blood": A man opens the highway, and in doing so, gets these stories engraved on his skin. Pretty wicked.
"The Midnight Meat Train": A newcomer in New York. A man who kills on the subway for a higher power. Guess what happens? They meet(no pun intended). One of his grosser tales, with VERY VIVID descripitions(spelled it wrong, I think). The first story I read.
"The Yattering and Jack": A funnier story, with little gore. The Yattering(a demon) is assigned the least caring man in the world. The turkey scene is a classic!
"Pig Blood Blues": A boy hangs himself in a barn, and still lingers about... Not his best story. the fact that they are putting it in the Books of Blood movie disgusts me. Still, pretty bloody.
"In the Hills, the Cities": Cities join in an old battle. Two, um, "lovers" see the battle. Quite possibly the bloodiest, not goriest, tale in the book. The first story by Barker I EVER read.
"The Skins of the Fathers": Demons. Mountain town. Nuff said. Pretty cool, with lotsa cool monsters.
"Jaqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament": A women can do things to men with her mind. Very erotic ending. Also, the man into women scene is not to be skimmed!
"Rawhead Rex": An old monster gets loose in a village. The best monster story ever made!
Half of the stories in the book! I would describe the other stories, but that would be to many words.
To end, I say anyone who likes Koontz, rainbows, dolls, bedtime stories, and sweet dreams, should look elswhere. But if you like King, lightning, gory tales, and nightmares, read this! It will keep you up all night!
on August 24, 2004
When originally released as three seperate works during the 1980's, these short stories were widely considered to be the beginning of something revolutionary in horror fiction. Barker was a fresh and promising look at what the genre could become when placed in the hands of thoughtful, intelligent, and (above all) imaginative writers. Stephen King would even make a very vocal statement supporting Barker, calling him the "future of horror." Clive Barker's Books of Blood trilogy were spellbinding, inspiring, and terrifying entries into the stale and used up world of occult horror. He was a breath of much needed fresh air.
Now looking back on these works about twenty years later, and surveying the massive and impressive body of work that Clive has sustained for himself, it's a very different "future" than the one Stephen King had imagined. Clive Barker has written some of the best and most daring fantasy works of the twentieth century; grand in scope, epic in length, philosophical in depth, and hopeful at heart. Weaveworld, the Great and Secret Show, Sacrament, Galilee... all of these books are great tales written by a master craftsman, and none of them carry the baggage of having to fit into the horror genre. In fact, besides perhaps the Damnation Game, I'd say that the Books of Blood (volumes 1-6) are the only works that Barker actually made that fall into the horror category. All works that follow are in a league all their own entirely.
Barker's work never made the splash in horror fiction that Stephen King was predicting. Sure, Barker has been a massively successful author, and has been able to create a wonderful tapestry of fiction by adhering to his own set of rules ( a very admirable quality in an author), but to claim that he writes horror fiction is to inaccurately label his beautiful style and prose. It seems now the name Barker has all but faded from the minds of casual horror readers. It's far more likely that you will find a room full of people who've read a Stephen King novel, than you will find a room full of people who've even heard of Clive Barker.
But for the devoted ones who have latched onto Barker's books, this is all very trivial and unimportant. The talent of an author is not meausred by the ammount of books sold (and he has sold millions), nor is it gauged by the familiarity of his name. For the fans, like myself, Barker's work is liberating. Reading his books set the imagination free and give you the uninhibited feeling of life. The feeling that all things are possible, if not probable. It's almost spiritual. No author has given me as much as Clive barker has. His ability to tap into the things that disturb yet fascinate us as well as the things that drive us and confound us in uncanny.
Clive Barker has said that the Clive Barker that wrote these Books of Blood is not the Clive Barker writing today. He is no longer as interested in shocking or disturbing his readers as he once was. He's matured as an author, and life has taken him in a different direction. So, reading these short stories of terror now, it's interesting to see the Barker of twenty years ago creating a world of repulsion and beauty, digging under your skin and finding the things that shake you to your core. "The Midnight Meat Train", is an exercise in graphic violence and lurking evil, "Dread" is the human mind breaking in two as it is forced to confront that which terrifies it beyond repair, "Skins of the Fathers" is an interesting precursor to the ideas explored in Cabal. The young Barker strikes some very vital chords here, and he made a brief, but very potent impact on horror fiction.
If you've never read Barker before, and you enjoy this sort of genre, this is a fabulous place to begin. If you enjoy these stories, pick up another Barker book, approach it with an open mind, and he'll take you places you never thought you would go.
on November 2, 1998
Clive Barker, the multi-talented Liverpudlian, supposedly was to be "the future of horror" (so said no less an authority than Stephen King) with the release of these first three "Books of Blood" way back in 1984. Turned out, however, that with his finely-honed pen, his gift for odd details, locales, and the powerful image, his penchant for mordant wit, the ambiguity with which he infused his stories (are there ever clear demarcations between those hoary old cliches Good & Evil in these tales?) and the sheer glee he took in subverting the genre turned off readers looking for a slice of American Gothic, a la Anne Dean Koontz, John Saul, and even King himself.
I say, leave those authors for the housewives and dilettantes; Barker is the real thing, a writer whose work doesn't comfort, but disturbs. How could readers looking for the traditional horror fiction formula react to stories like "In the Hills, the Cities," "Sex, Death, & Starshine," or "The Last Will & Testament of Jacqueline Ess"? He doesn't want to frighten you so much as radically alter your perception of the world. The horror genre is too often reactionary as it tries to banish the monster, the alien, the seemingly terrifying. Barker wants transformation; his characters confront the darkness, and find themselves changed, often times for the better, when they embrace it (literally, in the climax of "Jacqueline Ess").
Rather than recommend this to conventional horror fans, I say readers who like to challenge themselves should check these out--perhaps readers of Martin Amis or Julian Barnes or Jeanette Winterson, or Jorge Luis Borges, or Italo Calvino. Then again, maybe I'm wrong--Barker's work is graphically blood-drenched, which gained him a reputation in the mid-80s as a splatterpunk, which of course anyone who has read later, more mature works like "Weaveworld," "Sacrament" or "Imajica" will realize how inaccurate that is.
I think Barker is nearly a poet of horror in these stories, with prose as elegant and vivid as any of those writers mentioned above, and I think he deserves a wider readership. Here, in this new trade paperback, he has written a great introduction, one in which he reveals how he has changed over the years since he wrote the "Books of Blood." It's a thoughtful, perceptive, funny, vulgar essay, classic Barker, and the visions you'll find within are no less wonderful.
"Future of horror"? Thankfully not. Clive Barker transcends any genre, and remains untouchable.
on June 30, 2004
Ive read almost all of Barkers works and this is his best horror novel. Lots of the stories would make great horror films. "Rawhead Rex" has been made into a cheesy horror film and "Midnight Meat Train" is in production. Almost all of the stories introduce some sort of demons, monsters, cult members, or killers out to dish some hardcore bloody horror. Very NC17 with a dark sense of humor. If you are bored of Barkers fantasy tales like Weaveworld, Imagica, or Galilee, and want to sink you teeth into something with a darker bite check this out. Better than Damnation Game and Hellbound Heart.
on February 28, 2004
These stories serve as an introduction to Clive Barker. These were his first published works. Prior to this, he was writing stage plays. As a first effort of a writer, they are great. They evoke images, such as "In the Hills, the Cities", that stay with you for days. In the 80's, when these books were written, they were breaking new ground. Mr. Barker is able to conjure up horrific images without covering you in blood, for the most part.
I think that these stories will whet your appetite for the more mature works of Mr. Barker, such as The Great and Secret Show, and Everville.
As with many writers, some of the movie adaptations of these stories leave much to be desired. The best actually had Clive Barker involved, such as the original Hellraiser (the Hellbound Heart), Nightbreed (based on Cabal).
New readers, that have become jaded on the raw, in your face horror of the current writers, may miss out on some of the more subtle nuances in this freshman outing by Mr. Barker. He attempts, and mostly succeeds, in taking an everyday situation with ordinary people and sending out into the world of the horrific. Horror does not equal blood an gore but that feeling of dreading to turn the page to find out what happens next. Barker succeeds in this with these short stories.
on January 22, 2006
Originally published as 3 separate bus stop paperbacks, the Books of Blood are at long last together in one compendium...Actually I am lying as there is also books 4 through 6... So this is half a compendium, but it is nothing short of 100 percent sheer horror and madness. There are about 15 stories in this book, most of which made me want to re-read them right after I was done. Standouts include the famous Rawhead Rex - Where a monster was buried under a large rock in a farmer's field hundreds of years ago, but mankind has since forgotten why the monolith was erected in the first place. They decide to remove the stone, resulting in unholy consequences.
The Yattering and Jack is a great story about a demon trying to torment Jack, but he is oblivious and immune to the tricks of the demon. And finally a standout story "Dread" should be mentioned as it is a predecessor of the "Saw" movies, where a lunatic locks a vegetarian girl in a room with nothing to eat but a piece of rotting meat. As time goes by, her hunger grows, but so do the maggots in the animal flesh.
Anyhow, Barker delivers with this collection, and you should remember when reading it, that everybody is a book of blood - when we are opened up, we are red.
on September 26, 2002
Barker is a very different horror-writer, than the more commercial succesful writers like King or Koontz. His writing is much more unnerving and surreal than his more popular colleagues.
His work is another world, a world of grotesque and twisted minds and bodies, a world of incredible depravity and senseles pleasure. It is certainly an aquired taste, and not for everyone. To some people it is simply too much.
The Books of Blood vol. 1-3 covers a wide range of depravity from ritual murder over cannibalism and to vengeful spirits.
But the grotesque imagery is also what is attractive about the book. Like a carwreck, you want to turn away, but you can't.
I think I can best describe barker as a mix between H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar A. Poe. A very, very unsettling combination to be sure. Books of Blood is definately not recomended for the faint of heart or as a bedtime story
on December 6, 1999
Reason I like Clive Barker's work is because his writing is highly visual, emotional, and twisted. Visual and emotional, you'd have no problem understanding. Let me explain the "twisted" part. Many horror stories focus on horror itself. But what I found to be different with Clive Barker's work is that there is something more. There is humor, joy, meditation, blank stare, pleasure, smirk, and such that contradict things that normally accompany the idea of horror. Books of Blood is good example of this. Each short story is highly efficient and effective. A wonderful read.