Patrick's Reviews > Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three

Books of Blood by Clive Barker
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Mar 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: book-series, reviewed
Read from February 27 to March 03, 2011

After hearing critical acclaim, I finally decided to sit down and read Clive Barker’s Books of Blood 1-3. This is an omnibus of short horror stories. (If you want each story reviewed individually, you can look at my reviews for the first three books) At best, his stories are unique and quite unexpected. At worst, they are bland, predictable or too long. Like I’ve said many times before, Clive Barker has some sort of strange fixation on sex, private parts and excrement. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact number of times he throws in a random sex scene or describes someone’s unmentionables. There are 16 stories total, some good, some bad, some boring, some exciting and everything else.

Like I said before, Clive Barker is a fairly imaginative writer. Among these stories, “In the Hills, the Cities,” “Son of Celluloid” and “Hell’s Event” felt fairly creative. Clive’s stories certainly have the mark of an author who enjoys thinking outside the box in order to shock the reader. He enjoys putting on very odd twist endings as evidenced by “In the Hills, the Cities,” “The Midnight Meat Train” and “New Murders in the Rue Morgue.” (I quite enjoyed the strange ending of “The Midnight Meat Train.”) Many of the stories start off in an everyday setting before he introduces some strange, paranormal element. For example, “Pig Blood Blues” and “Human Remains” rely on absurdity to startle the reader. (Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t.) His stories are full of imagery intended on haunting and disturbing the reader, particularly the end of “Book of Blood.” While there are some fairly grotesque scenes, Clive Barker doesn’t go over-the-top in blood or gore.

Others stories, such as “Dread” and “The Midnight Meat Train” are excellent psychological thrillers. Both these stories are not only fast-paced, but managed to keep my attention. There are some places that are intentionally vague in order to stimulate the reader’s imagination. Clive Barker also makes use of shifting character perspectives, sometimes giving insight into the mind of a monster or killer, as seen in “Dread” and “Rawhead Rex,” which achieves a rather unique perspective.

There is a good amount of variety here. This collection reminiscences many classic horror themes, such as murderers (“The Midnight Meat Train), demons (“The Skins of the Fathers”), ghosts (“Book of Blood”) and Hell (“Hell’s Event”). Some of the stories introduce elements not often seen in horror fiction such as doppelgangers (“Human Remains”) and telekinesis (“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”). (That story reminded me a bit of “Carrie.”) Note that “The Yattering and Jack” works as a good dark comedy. Among these stories, “Son of Celluloid” and “In the Hills, the Cities” are strikingly original works.

Overall, my favorite stories would be “Book of Blood,” “The Midnight Meat Train,” “The Yattering and Jack,” “In the Hills, the Cities,” and “Dread.”

However, this book is not without its flaws. One of the main problems, one which I’ve pointed out numerous times before, is Clive’s fetish for sex and excrement. In “Sex, Death and Starshine,” “In the Hills, the Cities,” “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament,” “Scape-Goats” and perhaps a few others, some seemingly pointless sex scenes are thrown in where character development could’ve taken place. Within “The Skins of the Fathers,” “Scape-Goats,” “Rawhead Rex,” and probably a few others, Barker delves into descriptions regarding the male human anatomy. There are literally excerpts such as:
“…even its genitals, erect with anger, or (God help me) lust…”

or

“But he’d stood there at the Altar with an erection so powerful it was like discovering the joy of lust all over again.”

or

“His erection was so hygienic in its enthusiasm it seemed incapable of the least harm.”

I felt so awkward and embarrassed to be reading these sentences. There are plenty more details often exploring the female anatomy (“She had tits like melons and a brain that would shame a mule.”) and human waste. (“The shit on his legs was already dry from the heat.”) This was easily the most irritating thing I encountered while reading these stories. Really, is it necessary to add all these details, Mr. Barker?

Another problem I had with some of the stories was how unoriginal or uninspired they seemed. “The Skins of the Fathers” and “Rawhead Rex” could essentially be the same story. I feel like there are enough ‘innocent people fight off monster’ type stories, and the aforementioned don’t feel like they’d stand apart from the rest. “Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud” was entertaining, but felt so predictable and forced in comparison to the disturbing “Book of Blood.” By the time I got to “Scape-Goats,” I just felt tired of the formula. I didn’t care much for the characters since the monster was due to appear at any moment.

In fact, many of the stories seemed to rely on some sort of strange plot twist for the scare of the story. I am referring to “New Murders on Rue Morgue,” “Human Remains,” “Pig Blood Blues” and “In the Hills, the Cities.” (Keep in mind; the last two do it quite well.) What I mean is that the aforementioned stories seemed to rely on one “Boo!” moment in order to make the story effective. The formula seemed something like this: Someone is living their everyday life. Someone gets murdered. The culprit is something extremely out of the ordinary. At times, it seemed like the token monster was just too ridiculous or absurd to be scary, especially in “New Murders on Rue Morgue.”

I felt that “Hell’s Event” and “Son of Celluloid” had great potential for stories, but they were a tad dull for my taste. (Perhaps I would come to appreciate them more if I re-read them.) Of all the boring stories, “Sex, Death and Starshine” was easily the worst offender. For 31 pages, it dragged on and felt like there were a lot of extraneous content. I couldn’t find myself caring for any of the characters or anything that happened in the story.

My least favorite stories would be “Sex, Death and Starshine,” “The Skins of the Fathers,” “New Murders on Rue Morgue” and something else. (I’m having trouble deciding what the last one should be.)

Overall, the first book was an excellent start. The second one wasn’t as strong and the only story I really cared for was “Dread.” The third was entertaining, but just seemed tired and contrived. The 16 stories are a mixed bag of gold and mediocrity. Luckily, there was enough value in some of the stories to make it worthwhile.
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mark monday good review! as with all new friends, I like to do a little scan of their reviews and this one jumped right out at me.

I thought this collection was excellent. my favorites were In the Hills the Cities, Human Remains, and Skins of the Fathers.

regarding
"Clive’s fetish for sex and excrement... Really, is it necessary to add all these details, Mr. Barker?"

my perspective is that it is not so much his "fetish" (although who knows, I sure don't) but rather his consistent theme and what actually defines him as a writer. like the saying goes, I think most great writers are essentially rewriting the same book/exploring the same themes in different ways. I see Barker's obsessions as being centered around body-based horror. I think he needs to include all of those details in order to make sure his ongoing theme remains front and center. he wouldn't be Barker without those themes.

“His erection was so hygienic in its enthusiasm it seemed incapable of the least harm.”

come on, you gotta admit that's a pretty fantastic sentence! I wish I had written it.


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