Title: Books of Blood, Volume 2.
Author: Clive Barker.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror, fantasy, occult.
Publication Date: 1984 (this collection 1988).
Summary: This book collects the second (of 6) volumes of Books of Blood and 5 short stories. In Dread, a young student named Steve meets Quaid, an intellectual with an obsessively morbid fascination with fear and dread, and becomes the next victim of Quaid's inhumane, horrifying experiments that force people to come face-to-face with their deepest terrors. Hell's Event is about a race that takes place every 100 years in London into which Satan secretly enters one of his familiars for the victory of the rulership of Earth, and a runner and his agent who stumble upon the terrible truth. In Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, after a failed suicide attempt Jacqueline discovers a great and gruesome power within herself to mold and shift human flesh, and sets out on a brutal path of power, revenge, and a search for peace within her own shifting skin. In The Skins of the Fathers, a small town faces off against horrifying, ancient monsters, who have come back to claim a child they had conceived with a human woman several years prior. In New Murders in the Rue Morgue Lewis, an elderly artist who is allegedly the great nephew of Poe's famous detective Dupin, rushes to Paris when a close friend of his youth is accused of a gruesome and violent crime, but on getting there discovers that his friend's true crime lies in a horrible science experiment inspired by the case that had made Dupin famous.
My rating: 7.5/10.
My review: While I am still thoroughly enjoying Barker and his gift of story-telling that is at the same time chilling, revolting, and highly sexual, this volume did not impress me as much as the first one, simply because in this volume I came across a couple of stories I didn't particularly like, and no story left a powerful and long-lasting effect on me in the way In the Hills, the Cities did in Volume 1. But this is still a solid, fascinating, and worthwhile collection. Dread was one of the stories that made me pick up these books to begin with, because I had seen the movie and felt there was a compelling potential behind it (which usually signals, to me, that it's based on a book that was significantly better than the movie turned out to be). The concept of terror and our own capacity to face it is incredibly compelling, and it makes one uncomfortable, because everyone has a dark place in their subconscious where real, animal terror lives, though personally, being a big "mind over matter" kind of person, I don't agree with Barker that the extreme of that terror would necessarily break one's mind (although people reaching their mental limit and going insane from fear is a plot device Barker uses very liberally). The thought crossed my mind that it would have been nice to see someone be able to face and conquer their fear, but I suppose that was not really the point of the story. I do love how well Barker seems to understand the origins and feeling of true terror, and the ending was definitely something I didn't quite foresee, which for me is a great bonus in a book (I've gotten pretty good at predicting the plot). Hell's Event was a half-half story for me. I enjoyed the idea of the secret race for the dominion of Earth that the Devil enters every 100 years. The race itself was chilling and creepy - being chased by evil, the Orpheus-reminiscent danger of not looking back lest the darkness catches up to you, the throw-away deaths of everyone whom it does... I could have lived without the part where Joel's trainer comes upon the Mouth of Hell in a basement, though. It contextualized the story, sure, and that did have to be done, but somehow it left me kind of cold. Perhaps it was a little less disturbing and a little more cheesy than I have grown accustomed to with him. I did thoroughly enjoy the irony of the ending. But what I think hit me the most in this story overall is the myth of Orpheus that rears its head in the end once again, when the children lead the adults away from the carnage and, having so recently come out of darkness, remember not to look back when walking away from it. That paragraph sent a whole different set of chills down my spine than a more typical kind of fear - something older, hidden, instinctual. The ending was worth reading the story for. I did not enjoy Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament very much. Firstly, as much as I have grown to love Barker, I have to admit that writing women and their sexuality is not his strength - it's always way over the top. But what I enjoyed the least about this story is that it didn't seem to have a sufficient purpose to me aside for explicit sexuality and gore. And while it's ironic that one of my favourite things about Barker is, in fact, how seamlessly and beautifully he combines precisely those two things, with this story I realize that a strong and compelling plot is still a must in that equation. And this story read a little bit like exceptionally gory pornography. I do, however, still acknowledge and appreciate the nod to women and their power and society's misconception thereof that Barker provides. The Skins of the Fathers was interesting. I enjoyed how Cthulhian it was, though with an interesting and compelling twist of the monsters being "fathers" to mankind, and not actively seeking to harm anyone. I thought Barker's commentary on men and women, and especially how women were a species of their own and how the monsters and women had created men, and how men had taken down the species with violence, was a strong critical perspective on the male sex. What I find the most interesting about this story is how as the point of view changes, so must the reader's loyalties. By the end, when it turns out that the monsters mean no harm and wish to take their son from his otherwise extremely abusive environment, one cannot help but resent the humans for their blood-thirst and anger. But though this feeling becomes overwhelming by the end, one can't ignore the gnawing reminder that people are acting entirely according to their nature and, from the information they have, not irrationally, and if the point of view of the "monsters" had not been given, it would be a fairly typical "humans hunting evil monsters, yay!" story. It's the ending, though, that provides a chilling catharsis. If nothing else, Barker is undeniably king of killing his characters in disturbing, extreme and unique ways. New Murders in the Rue Morgue was a fascinating story to me, because I'm a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and Detective Dupin and The Mysteries of the Rue Morgue left quite an impression on me when I first read them. Barker's spin on the great "what is human?" question is intriguing, if a little difficult to wrap one's mind around. I enjoyed the fact that I couldn't quite figure out the twist until it was revealed, and was as disturbed by it as Lewis is. If the horrific brutality that seems to be purely accidental is not disturbing enough, the rapid transition in front of the reader's eye from ape to man certainly is. The ending leaves one shocked and disturbed for some time, and uniquely not for any physically shocking reason (or even the suicide), but the very moral and ethical implications that it carries. Delightfully perturbing!
♥ There is no delight the equal of dread. If it were possible to sit, invisible, between two people on any train, in any waiting room or office, the conversation overheard would time and again circle on that subject. Certainly the debate might appear to be about something entirely different; the state of the nation, idle chat about death on the roads, the rising price of dental care; but strip away the metaphor, the innuendo, and there, nestling at the heart of the discourse, is dread. While the nature of God, and the possibility of eternal life go undiscussed, we happily chew over the minutiae of misery. The syndrome recognizes no boundaries; in bath-house and seminar-room alike, the same ritual is repeated. With the inevitability of a tongue returning to probe a painful tooth, we come back and back and back again to our fears, sitting to talk them over with the eagerness of a hungry man before a full and steaming plate.
♥ "It's not true philosophy they teach you here," said Quaid, with unmistakable contempt.
"We get spoonfed a bit of Plato, or a bit of Bentham - no real analysis. It's got all the right markings of course. It looks like the beast: it even smells a bit like the beast to the uninitiated."
"Philosophy. True Philosophy. It's a beast, Stephen. Don't you think?"
"I hadn't - "
"It's wild. It bites."
He grinned, suddenly vulpine.
"Yes. It bites," he replied.
Oh, that pleased him. Again, for luck: "Bites."
Stephen nodded. The metaphor was beyond him.
"I think we should feel mauled by our subject." Quaid was warming to the whole subject of mutilation by education. "We should be frightened to juggle the ideas we should talk about."
"Because if we were philosophers worth we wouldn't be exchanging academic pleasantries. We wouldn't be talking semantics; using linguistic trickery to cover the real concerns."
"What would we be doing?"
Steve was beginning to feel like Quaid's straight-man. Except that Quaid wasn't in a joking mood. His face was set: his pinprick irises had closed down to tiny dots.
"We should be walking close to be beast, Steve, don't you think? Reaching out to stroke it, pet it, milk it - "
"What... er... what is the beast?"
Quaid was clearly a little exasperated by the pragmatism of the enquiry.
"It's the subject of any worthwhile philosophy, Stephen. It's the things we fear, because we don't understand them. It's the dark behind the door."
Steve thought of a door. Thought of the dark. He began to see what Quaid was driving at in his labyrinthine fashion. Philosophy was a way to talk about fear.
"We should discuss what's intimate to our psyches," said Quaid. "If we don't... we risk..."
Quaid's loquaciousness deserted him suddenly.
Quaid was staring at his empty brandy glass, seeming to will it to be full again.
"Want another?" said Steve, praying that the answer would be no.
"What do we risk?" Quaid repeated the question. "Well, I think if we don't go out and find the beast - "
Steve could see the punchline coming.
" - sooner or later the beast will come and find us."
♥ There is no delight the equal of dread. As long as it's someone else's.
♥ "The real terrors in me, in all of us, are pre-personality. Dread's there before we have any notion of ourselves as individuals. The thumb-nail, curled up on itself in the womb, feels fear."
♥ And wouldn't that be the ultimate experiment for Quaid? Watching a man die: watching the fear of death, the motherlode of dread, approach. Sartre had written that no man could ever know his own death. But to know the deaths of others, intimately - to watch the acrobatics that the mind would surely perform to avoid the bitter truth - that was a clue to death's nature, wasn't it? That might, in some small way, prepare a man for his own death. To live anther's dread vicariously was the safest, cleverest way to touch the beast.
♥ Steve took a sour satisfaction in that thought. That Quaid, the impartial experimenter, the would-be educator, was obsessed with terrors because his own dread ran deepest.
That was why he had to watch others deal with their fears. He needed a solution, a way out for himself.
♥ And Quaid knew, meeting the clown's vacant stare through iron air turned bloody, that there was worse in the world than dread. Worse than death itself.
There was pain without hope of healing. There was life that refused to end, long after the mind had begged the body to cease. And worst, there were dreams come true.
♥ That was why Hell came up to London that bright blue day: to run a race, and to win, if it could, enough souls to keep it busy with perdition another age.
♥ His bicycle was chained up in Paternoster Row, a minute's walk from the square. He'd always hated cars: godless things, crippling, inhuman, unChristian things. With a bike you were your own master. Wasn't that all a man could ask?
♥ It's easy to be a hero, Cameron used to say. It's not clever, it's not clever at all. Don't waste your time showing off, just let the Supermen have their moment. Hang on to the pack, but hold back a little. Better to be cheered at the post because you won than have them call you a good-hearted loser.
Win. Win. Win.
At all costs. At almost all costs.
The man who doesn't want to win is no friend of mine, he'd say. If you want to do it for the love of it, for the sport of it, do it with somebody else. Only public schoolboys believe that crap about the joy of playing the game. There's no joy for losers, boy. What did I say?
There's no joy for losers.
Be barbaric. Play the rules, but play them to the limit. As far as you can push, push. Let no other sonofabitch tell you differently. You're here to win. What did I say?
The words were mere melodrama: two-dimensional. He was master of his body wasn't he? And he was not afraid of darkness, he was painted in it. Wasn't that what made him less than human as far as so many people were concerned? Or more, more than human; bloodier, sweatier, fleshier. More arm, more leg, more head. More strength, more appetite. What could Hell do? Eat him? He'd taste foul on the plate. Freeze him? He was too hot-blooded, too fast, too living.
Nothing would take him, he was a barbarian with the manners of a gentleman.
Neither night nor day entirely.
♥ The mouth was huge, and lined with teeth like the maw of some deep-water fish, ridiculously large. Joel's one good arm was under its lower jaw, just managing to keep it at bay, as he cried for help.
Nobody stepped forward.
The crowd stood at a polite distance, still screaming, still staring, unwilling to interfere. It was purely a spectator sport, wrestling with the Devil. Nothing to do with them.
♥ The crowd began to back away. Some people were already running. Children, knowing the nature of the dark having been so recently touched by it, were the least troubled. They took their parents' hands and led them away from the spot like lambs, telling them not to look behind them, and their parents half-remembered the womb, the first tunnel, the first aching exit from a hallowed place, the first terrible temptation to look behind and die. Remembering, they went with their children.
♥ If one has given oneself utterly, watching the beloved sleep can be a vile experience. Perhaps some of you have known that paralysis, staring down at features closed to your enquiry, locked away from you where you can never, ever go, into the other's mind. As I say, for us who have given ourselves, that is a horror. One knows, in those moments, that one does not exist, except in relation to that face, that personality. Therefore, when that face is closed down, that personality is lost in its own unknowable world, one feels completely without purpose. A planet without a sun, revolving in darkness.
♥ On reflection, of course, that seems laughably naîve. To think she wouldn't have known that she contained such a power. But it was easier for me to picture her as prey to such skill, than mistress of it. That's a man speaking of a woman; not just me, Oliver Vassi, of her, Jacqueline Ess. We cannot believe, we men, that power will ever reside happily in the body of a woman, unless that power is a male child. Not true power. The power must be in male hands, God-given. That's what our fathers tell us, idiots that they are.
♥ Of course I searched for her. It's only when you've lost someone, you realize the nonsense of that phrase "it's a small world." It isn't. It's a vast, devouring world, especially if you're alone.
♥ Still the words came: the same dirty words that had been thrown at generations of unsubmissive women. Whore; heretic; cunt; bitch; monster.
Yes, she was that.
Yes, she thought: monster I am.
♥ Tangled in a wash of love they thought themselves extinguished, and were.
Outside, the hard world mourned on, the chatter of buyers and sellers continuing through the night. Eventually indifference and fatigue claimed even the eagerest merchant. Inside and out there was a healing silence: an end to losses and to gains.
~~Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament.
♥ At the toe of the foothills Packard brought the convoy to a halt. Had he known who Napoleon Bonaparte was, no doubt he would have felt like that conqueror. Had he known that conqueror's life-story, he might have sensed that this was his Waterloo: but Josh Packard lived and died bereft of heroes.
♥ Something was wrong. Something, someone, was coming to interfere with this night of festival, unplanned and uninvited. The demons know the signs and they were not unprepared for the eventuality. Was it not inevitable that the heroes of Welcome would come after the boy? Didn't the men believe, in their pitiable way, that their species was born out of earth's necessity to know itself, nurtured from mammal to mammal until it blossomed as humanity?
Natural then to treat the fathers as the enemy, to root them out and try to destroy them. A tragedy really: when the only thought the fathers had was of unity through marriage, that their children should blunder in and spoil the celebration.
Still, men would be men. Maybe Aaron would be different, though perhaps he too would go back in time into the human world and forget what he was learning here. The creatures who were his fathers were also men's fathers: and the marriage of semen in Lucy's body was the same mix that made the first males. Women had always existed: they had lived a species to themselves, with the demons. But they had wanted playmates: and together they had made men.
What an error, what a cataclysmic miscalculation. Within mere eons, the worst rooted out the best; the women were made slaves, the demons killed or driven underground, leaving only a few pockets of survivors to attempt again that first experiment, and make men, like Aaron, who would be wiser to their histories. Only by infiltrating humanity with new male children could the master race be made milder. That chance was slim enough, without the interference of more angry children, their fat white fists hot with guns.
~~The Skins of the Fathers.
♥ Even the Rue Morgue.
There was, of course, some doubt as to whether that infamous street had ever existed in the first place, but as his years advanced Lewis had seen less and less purpose in distinguishing between fact and fiction. That great divide was for young men, who still had to deal with life. For the old (Lewis was 73), the distinction was academic. What did it matter what was true and what was false, what real and what invented? In his head all of it, the half-lies and the truths, were one continuum of personal history.
♥ Whether true or not the tale held a great romantic appeal for Lewis. He liked to think of his great uncle logically pacing his way through the mystery, undistressed by thy hysteria and horror around him. He thought of that calm as essentially European; belonging to a lost age in which the light pf reason was still valued, and the worst horror that could be conceived of was a beats with a cut-throat razor.
Now, as the twentieth century ground through its last quarter, there were far greater atrocities to be accounted for, all committed by human beings. The humble orang-outang had been investigated by anthropologists and found to be a solitary herbivore; quiet and philosophical. The true monsters were far less apparent, and far more powerful. Their weapons made razors look pitiful; their crimes were vast. In some ways, Lewis was almost glad to be old and close to leaving the century to its own devices.
♥ He looked up again: his eyes were bloodshot, and red-rimmed from nights of tears. But now it seemed there were no more years left in him; just an arid place where there had been an honest fear of death, a love of love, and an appetite for life. What met Lewis' eyes was a universal indifference: to continuation, to self-preservation, to feeling.
♥ The reverie went on interminably; the old man fixed beyond movement at the crux of his feelings, unable to go forward into the future, or back into the soiled past. Unable to remember. Unable to forget.
♥ "Lewis," it said again, and gestured to the woman, (now sitting open-legged on the bed) offering her for his pleasure.
Lewis shook his head.
In and out, in and out, part fiction, part fact.
It had come to this; offered a human woman by this naked ape.
♥ It was the last, God help him, the very last chapter in the fiction his great uncle had begun. From love to murder back to love again. The love of an ape for a man. He had caused it, with his dreams of fictional heroes, steeped in absolute reason. He had coaxed Phillipe into making real the stories of a lost youth. He was to blame. Not this poor strutting ape, lost between the jungle and the Stock Exchange; not Phillipe, wanting to be young forever; certainly not cold Catherine, who after tonight would be completely alone. It was him. His the crime, his the guilt, his the punishment.
♥ "Lewis," it said.
Not pleading. Not demanding. Simply naming, for the pleasure of naming, an equal.
~~New Murders in the Rue Morgue.