For a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels. What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat series, paired with the success of his earlier dark fantasy novel for a younger audience, The Thief of Always, I thought maybe he was going to take the route of other horror authors, and focus on writing for teens. Mister B. Gone marks his return to adult horror, and I’m pleased to say that it’s pretty good.
Barker has always been a little hit-or-miss with me. On the one hand, I enjoy his knack for finding the disturbing without having to be grotesque about it. One of my favorite scenes from any novel is the way that one creature’s eyes from Arabat crawl around on his face like insects, and even have the ability to crawl right off his body, and still see for him. It sends one of those pleasant shivers down my spine, because it genuinely creeps me out, without being violent or graphic. What’s odd about saying that is that Barker is known for being a progenitor of the “Splatterpunk” genre, where the graphic, detailed, violent imagery is as much a character of the stories as the people populating them. So, in a way, part of me enjoyed the YA-focus of his other novels, since it seemed to distill the violence down to something more effective. But that’s where it has always been hit-or-miss with me.
Mister B. Gone hits and misses, as well, for the same reasons. The hit is a good one, and is the main premise of the novel: A demon is speaking to us from within the prison of the very book we’re reading. In fact, it’s not really a book we’re reading, as it is a story we’re hearing told from the demon himself. Barker uses this premise to full effect, finding ways to disturb us with this connection. Just as we start to lose ourselves in the story, the demon comes back to speak to us, directly, and reminds us that we might have to pay a small price for hearing this story. It works, and it works well. I don’t think it will have anyone convinced that the premise could possibly be true, but like any good horror novel, it will make you wonder if you shouldn’t be listening to the demon’s entreaties a little more seriously….
The miss, though, is in the violence. Graphic depictions seem unnecessary to me, even when they fit in with the stories (Charlie Huston, I’m looking in your direction…). In this story, oddly enough, they seemed gratuitous, even if they were supposed to be spoken by a demon. Those moments were gross-outs, not creep-outs, and I always prefer the latter to the former. Gross-outs are cop-outs, to me, and are a cheap way of being “horror” when you can’t find enough of an emotional connection to truly frighten someone. It’s like the difference between the movies The Haunting and Friday the 13th; one is an effective story of psychological manipulation, while the other is just a slasher flick.
Luckily, the violence isn’t as over-the-top as it could have been, and the premise of the story carries it well enough to compensate for what violence is in the book. If you’re looking for a good, short scare, this might fit the bill. It’s a good read that won’t keep you thinking for too long after the story ends, but the short time that it will take you to finish the book will more than make up for that fact. It’s no Imajica or “In the Hills, the Cities,” but it shows that Barker hasn’t lost his touch just yet.