Matt Kaiser's Reviews > The Hellbound Heart

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
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's review
Dec 31, 2011

it was amazing
Read in July, 2010

In this novella -- the basis of the 1987 film sensation, Hellraiser -- Clive Barker explores the intersection of lust and pain. For a hedonist like Frank Cotton the orgiastic pleasures of narcotics and sex eventually fail to provide gratification. Thus is the inescapable byproduct of indulgence: consumption breeds tolerance which, in turn, translates to dulled sensation. Disillusioned with worldly pursuits of pleasure, in exchange for "small favors," Frank procures a puzzle box from an oriental merchant, which he is assured will provide him with unprecedented bliss.
After countless hours toiling to unlock the puzzle box -- the lament configuration -- Frank is not greeted with the species of pleasure he is accustomed to. Instead he unleashes demon cenobites with an unquenchable penchant for flesh.

While the narrative alone is enough to keep the reader compelled, keep an eye on this novella's subtext. Pleasure operates on a fairly constrained continuum: whatever the means to the end, the result is estimable. Conversely, pain operates on a much broader spectrum. Subjection to pain can escalate literally until the threshold of death. Where a hedonistic individual's appetite for sensory overhaul is ungratified within the confines of our traditional conception of pleasure, he may seek alternative stimulation.

Barker's point is poignant: the hedonistic lifestyle will often devolve into a self-destructive one.

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