Jason's Reviews > The Damnation Game

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker
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's review
May 31, 2011

really liked it
Recommended for: Horror fans, suspense & thriller fans, adults only
Read in April, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I was still reading Prey by Michael Crichton when, one day, I was at work and needed something to dig into. The Damnation Game by Clive Barker was available. The title immediately appealed to me, and I had never read anything from the author before. I knew he was responsible for Hellraiser, a line of horrible “toys” of mutilated people, and had heard rumors he was a practicing Satanist. I read up on him; he self-identifies as a Christian, and has been writing children’s books since 2002. Back in 1984 or 1985, Stephen King said “I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker”. I like King’s work, so I thought I would give this a whirl.

Martin “Marty” Strauss is a convict. His wife is divorcing him after six years behind bars, and he thinks he has become apathetic to the world. He is offered early parole if he will become a servant to an eccentric billionaire named Joseph Whitehead. Though he is virtually still a prisoner in Whitehead’s mansion, he works hard for his patron, puts his body into good shape, and enjoys the newfound freedom afforded him. He also gets to know the unusual circle of people around Whitehead, including his beautiful but strange daughter, Carys.
As time passes Marty begins to realize that Whitehead is terrified of an “old friend” named Mamoulian who seems to have supernatural powers. Marty soon learns that Whitehead struck a “deal with the devil” with Mamoulian, and his soul, as well as those of everyone around him, including Marty and Carys, are at risk.

I don’t think a story had affected me like this in a long time.
I am not even sure why, or how.
I am not sure why I cared so much about the characters. The protagonist is an ex-con with loose morals and a serious gambling problem. Carys is a heroin addict who willingly goes with the villain at one point. But they feel real. It’s impossible not to care for these characters and want them to succeed.
I think, above all, The Damnation Game is a kind of examination into the male psyche. So much of what happens in the story feels like an analogy, subtle and otherwise, of the “male condition”. There is a yearning for freedom, a desire for self-improvement, temptations of the flesh (both succumbed to and resisted), loyalty and betrayal, moments of mortal terror, and moments of spiritual, eternal horror. There is an enemy to be confronted. I just don’t know if this story would speak to women as it spoke to me, or if the feeling is regardless of gender and just strikes some chord deep in my mind.
I guess I should point out that I read almost the entire text to the music of Inception by Hans Zimmer. That may be partly why I felt it was less a horror story and more a mysterious, supernatural thriller.
I could talk about this book for days, maybe years. In the end… and here is a spoiler… I am glad this book does have a happy ending for the two main characters (at least apparently).

Some things I thought about while reading…
-Is Mamoulian real, or is he a kind of creation of Joseph Whitehead? An important concept of the book is “Men create their own devils”.

-Are all the characters just aspects of the male psyche; a play enacted on the stage of Marty’s mind?

-Was Mamoulian who he remembered he was? Or was he something even older and darker than even he suspected? I thought his “history” had a forged quality.

Characters: 5
All of the characters in this story are great. Though there were times I felt Marty was being an idiot, from his perspective he really does as much as he can with what he knows. Whitehead is an enigma. Carys (as it is revealed) is not only a heroin addict but also possesses extrasensory gifts (curses?), and Mamoulian is a wonderful villain.
I can’t say enough how much the character of Marty affected me. Though not really similar to me (he has a gambling problem, etc.), he feels like a quintessential male... a kind of embodiment of the gender that I think almost any guy can relate to.

My Cast
Marty Strauss = Tom Hardy
Carys Whitehead = Kate Winslet
Joseph Whitehead = Something between Robert Prosky and Tom Berenger
Mamoulian = Sean Bean under a lot of makeup
Flynn = John Cazale

Pace: 4 (maybe 3)
I think I read this book in five days, and it’s a good length. The story really kept me going like most books can’t. I think this had more to do with my connection to the characters though; there are parts where the story bogs down, switches gears to something, or (worse yet) even gets a little repetitive. It’s still well executed though.

Story: 3
What can be said about this story? Nearly every depravity known to man is here somewhere, and yet disgust and fear are the overriding emotions, not lust or appetite. I think Barker had enough good taste (and morals?) to refrain from the worst things. Taboo subjects frequently mentioned by others, such as the incest, is so barely touched upon that it could be interpreted as something else altogether.
The book doesn’t really stand on the story but the characters. It’s supposed to be horror, but I read it as a suspense thriller. I cared about Marty and Carys, and even in the face of undefeatable horror I maintained some faith they could come out of it and have a happy ending. I should have known better; what good is a horror story that has a happy ending? But as I already said, I didn’t read this as a horror story.
The story does have such a degree of detail, suspense, clues, and revelations that I can safely call it well written.
Clive Barker does, unfortunately, resort to needless violence a few times, particularly at the very end. It’s the gross-out flavor of fright, and it’s the weakest variety in the school of horror.

Dialogue: 4
Horror stories have a hard time with dialogue... not because they are incapable of having good dialogue, but because so much of what stands out are the mindless exclamations of shock and terror, pleadings to God, etc. No one ever sounded fake though, and I thought Carys was exceptionally well done in terms of her communication.

Style/Technical: 4
On one hand, Clive Barker jumps around in the viewpoint to different characters with almost no warning, and yet he makes it clear within a half dozen words through whose eyes the reader is seeing.
I had to consult a dictionary several times. I don’t think the author was being needlessly verbose; I have the impression that he used words that were understood and even somewhat normal for him to use.
Above all, the book was easy to understand and visualize. Scenes are written in detail. You’re never left wondering; the characters don’t wander in a gray haze.

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