Friday, February 13, 2009

Where have all the monsters gone?

Clive Barker has carved his own niche in the horror/fantasy genre. In the crowded world of mostly amateurish horror novels, most of his works are seminal -- Weaveworld, Cabal, and The Hellbound Heart. His short story collection, The Books of Blood, are worth every penny; they'll give you many sleepless nights with their otherworldly plot. If you find these in bargain bins, get them, because I can't find them in our major bookstores anymore. Barker's foray into the young adult fiction is noteworthy as well. The first two books of his planned quartet, Abarat, are simply beautiful books. Other than being a novelist, Barker is a painter as well. And his Abarat books sparkle with his disturbing artworks.

When Barker's latest novel, Mister B. Gone, came out last year, I had no hesitation in getting myself a copy. He hasn't come out with an adult novel in the past few years, so I was desperately in need of a Clive Barker fix. If you've read a horror novel by Barker, you somehow expect that this book will have plenty of (1) delicious gore, (2) perverted sex, (3) disturbing imagery, and (4) a character that you simply dread. Sadly, all these four elements are missing in Mister B. Gone. I've even wondered whether this book was ghostwritten. If not for the premise of this book, it could've been written by any second-rate novelist straight out of a writing seminar.

Written in the style of an autobiography, Mister B. Gone is the personal account of Jakabok Botch, or Mister B, a demon from the ninth circle of hell. Jakabok sees a raw steak and beer, which is actually a lure used by fishermen. He then gets dragged from hell and is forced to live in the world of mortals. Jakabok spreads his mischief on earth through several centuries, eventually forming a partnership of sorts with another more powerful demon named Quitoon. Jakabok, now known as Mister B, finds himself fleeing from Quitoon's company after a frightful disagreement. He goes to a small town in Germany, where he think Quitoon is, to make amends. When he finally meets Quitoon, the demon tells him that something that could shake the very foundations of heaven and hell is brewing in this small German town.

There are many things on why the book does not work. If you're looking for a horror novel, the supposed scary scenes are simply, well, not scary. Perhaps it's the autobiographical theme of the book that makes the scary scenes, when told by Mister B himself, seem self-indulgent. Also, demons have been practically created to wreak havoc on mortals, so it's a no-brainer that Mister B is capable of this kind of evil. Halfway through the book, I began to seriously take the advice of Mister B to burn the book I am holding. (Throughout the chapters, Mister B continually pleads the reader to not finish the book and burn it instead.) This book has somehow been miscategorized. It's not a horror novel, it's one based on comedy, although unintentionally at times. As a young demon, Mister B passes out as he burns his notes on torture, falling accidentally into the fire and disfiguring himself in the process. His wife-beating father then drags him off the flames. Aren't demons acclimatized to the fiery pits of hell? Also, demons have fathers?

I almost gave up midway, but when I came to the pivotal drama of the novel involving angels, Gutenberg, and his movable type, I thought that Barker would redeem the inane story of Mister B's life. This particular part was ripe for an all-out Barker shock extravaganza. Still, the book fell short of expectations. Looking back, I think using this particular moment in history (the invention of the printing press) for the climax of the book was ill-chosen. You just know that Gutenberg will still be able to overcome either the angels or the demons and successfully print the first book.

One thing going for this book is its just a few pages more than a novella. You can read it in a few hours. But where are the monsters Barker is so successful at conjuring? Where are the scenes of torture and depravity? How come this book is so anemic in terms of horrific ideas? In Barker's previous novels, I have come to expect and love the unimaginably grotesque. Maybe it was this disappointment that led me to crave for a Clive Barker's Tortured Souls action figure. My friend R bought me Feverish (shown below), who has his insides taken out and lies on a steel bed being perpetually tortured.