Mark R.'s Reviews > In the Flesh

In the Flesh by Clive Barker
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's review
Feb 27, 2009

really liked it
Read in February, 2009


I've read this book a few times. I couldn't say exactly how many; I only vividly recall the first read-through, when I was about twelve years old, this being the second of Barker's books that I picked up, after "The Thief of Always", his first "all-ages" novel.

The "Books of Blood", of which this is technically "Part 5", are decidedly NOT all-ages, and the vivid descriptions, often of very dark, grim situations, hit me right away, as a distinct change from "Thief of Always". I loved this book when I was twelve, and I love, probably more, now that I'm twenty-seven.

I know I've read the second story, "The Forbidden" a few times, but other than that, I couldn't say if I've read this book three times, four times--except that when I picked it up recently, I remembered almost nothing about any of the stories aside from "The Forbidden". So, time for a re-read.

The first two stories, "In the Flesh" and "The Forbidden" are creepy horror stories, and both are very effective. The first story features a young man who ends up in jail, as he says, "on purpose" in an attempt to connect with his grandfather, who was hanged in, and buried on the grounds of, the prison. The reader can't possibly tell where the story is going from there, and it opens up and provides more and more fantasy and horror in its forty or fifty pages, more than most novels can manage.

"The Forbidden" is the story of the Candyman, a local legend who haunts residents of a broken-down, graffiti-ridden community. This one stays with me, creeps me out after I've finished reading it. One of my favorites of Barker's short stories.

When I was younger, I didn't appreciate "The Madonna", the third story in this collection. Reading it again now, I enjoyed it much more, and I wonder if perhaps it really has been over a decade since I last took a look at this story. I can't explain how I could otherwise dismiss it, as it is quite good, and contains elements of "The Metamorphosis" (which, I admit, I hadn't read until fairly recently) along with some more bizarre gender discussion similar to nothing else I've ever read. Not quite as powerful or haunting as the first two stories, "The Madonna" is neverthless an enjoyable read.

The last entry, "Babel's Children" is the least of the four, but is still a good time. This one actually has some elements of conspiracy of the government kind, and if my memory is correct--and it rarely is--this is the only story of Barker's that's ever dealt with this subject.

Overall, "In the Flesh" is a great collection of four short stories (nearly novellas) that are frequently scary and always well-written. I would probably have to place this collection somewhere in the middle of the "Books of Blood": better than "The Inhuman Condition" and "Cabal" but probably not higher up than the first three. Although, based on what I remembered of these stories, I could be completely wrong.

If I live a happy, long life, I'm sure I will read each of the "Books of Blood" at least ten times.


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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Michael I will also be reading this within the next month or so.

Mark R. This was the first short story collection I read by Clive Barker. I read it when I was twelve, and I remember reading it a couple times since then. Strangely, when I picked it up recently, I could only recall the details of one of the four stories. Damn, it's so good, I'm glad I'm reading it again. His descriptions are fucking brilliant and extremely vivid.

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