Daniel Swensen's Reviews > The Great and Secret Show

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
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Aug 03, 12

bookshelves: formative-works, horror
Read from July 26 to August 01, 2012

I revisited this book after about fifteen years, and it's even better the second time around. Great and Secret Show is somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King's middle years -- it's all about the inhuman and fantastic interfacing with modern American suburbia. Palomo Grove is like Derry, Maine, a quiet town where immortal spirits come to duke it out, using the town's inhabitants as vessels and tools.

Barker is fantastic at building his own mythologies. Great and Secret Show nods to Lovecraft without becoming a pastiche, and echoes the magical conceits of Imagica without aping it outright. Most of all, he manages to take familiar ideas and make them fresh -- an antagonist who literally feeds upon nightmares (while remaining just a little bit sympathetic -- classic Barker) and a failed shaman / mentor whose power is fueled by dreams. Both are given flesh and form in the story, but the nightmares, as in many horror novels, end up being far more compelling.

The book is not perfect -- the middle act sags a little, and a few elements feel underdeveloped, while others outstay their welcome. But this is modern fantasy at its best -- dangerous, primal, unpredictable, full of beauty and terror. This book went on my shelf of favorites long ago, and it's earned the right to stay there.
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