Mr B Gone (book, 2007)

From Death Ray 09. Did I ever tell you that on one of the occasions I interviewed Clive Barker, at the Dorchester in London, he actually fell asleep mid sentence? No? One for another time I think (charming bloke, by the way, I don’t think he was feeling great at the time, and no, it wasn’t me. Really, I’m super-interesting).


Four stars

Clive Barker//HarperVoyager

The Liverpuddlian horror master is on top form with this interesting morality play of demons, angels and printing…

Barker’s a chap whose ideas can outstrip his prose, whose knack for the cinematic sometimes undoes him when he turns his attention to literature. Read his Books of Blood and his script becomes apparent – some people go somewhere they shouldn’t, they see something awful, and (this is the weak bit) it sends one of them so mad they commit sexual and violent atrocities.

Except when Barker’s fiendish mind is running on all cylinders, and he gives us Weaveworld, or “The Yattering and Jack”, or “In the Hills, the Cities”. And his movies, well… Among the best of 80s horror. He’s braver in style than other writers, as this book’s first person, almost interactive nature bears out.

Mister B Gone is a gilt example of Barker’s themes. It’s dripping with blood, moral ambiguity, scorn of humanity, a species of upbeat joy and a dash of sexual yearning. You suspect that if you could cut off the top of Barker’s skull and peer inside, you’d see all kinds of unpleasantness and squirming doubts, but if the protagonist here is anything to go by, Barker’s made his peace with his own head.

Mister B Gone works well because Jakobok Botch, (the titular demon) is naturally nasty – there’s a charming innocence to his evil. Unlike some other Barker characters Botch struggles with his moral choices rather than simply going beserk, but, and this is where it gets intriguing, Botch struggles with his desire to do good and love, as insidious to him as the dark whispers of our own minds to do ill.

So the idea of the conflict between Heaven and Hell being a tedious business agreement is less than original. But that’s just a sideshow, it’s Botch’s whispering from the pages that gives the shivers and chills. Botch goads and cajoles, threatens and pleads, and Barker uses his voice to needle our own prurient interest in violence. It’s not any author who could use a character in this way to tease their readers. Even if Botch’s demands that we burn the tome are repeated once too often, on the whole it is a trick that works to discomfort and entertain, and that’s what horror is all about.


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