It’s been so long since I’ve read these that reading them now is almost like experiencing them for the first time all over again. Having a shoddy memory mainly sucks, but in the case of book re-reads, it holds its gifts. I do remember some things though – like when this came out, Barker was making his way on the horror scene big time, heavily endorsed by King himself, who said: “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” This quote was even used, with an actor voiceover, for the Hellraiser’s trailer years later. It is used, of course, on the Books of Blood as a selling point.
Barker has since demonstrated extreme versatility in genre and form; you’re more than likely now of days to find his imaginative tombs lining the shelves in a fantasy section rather than a horror one. When he erupted onto the scene he did so with big bangs – the Books of Blood series being one of the biggest.
Immediately it’s clear Barker possesses a beautiful and poetic prose. If you asked me what stood out the most about this anthology, I’d answer that first: writing style. Altering rhythm to fit the story and not become repetitive, there’s emphasis where there should be, distance when that fits, all the while weaving both sides together naturally.
The opening story, ‘The Book of Blood,’ is almost indecisive on where it wanted to go, but ultimately the end is a horrific, well-written arrival. Twisted, surreal, somewhat mystical, the tone for the rest of the anthology is accurately set. Basically the dead have highways by which they travel, and on one of these highways, at an interval, is a house. Inside that house is a poser boy pretending dangerously to be something he isn’t, joined by a paranormal investigator who goes in being duped but leaves exalted. And of course the dead are there. They’re ready to share their stories, how they ended up on this particular path, their personal damnations, so won’t you listen? 3.5/5
In the Midnight Meat Train, Kaufman ends up traveling a dangerous path of his own. The man has loved, cherished, and longed for New York city from afar his entire life, but now that he’s finally planted his roots in the Big Apple, he finds only bitter tastes. Kaufman soon discovers a hidden aspect of the city; apparently one man’s horror is another man’s paradise. It’s grim, it’s brutal, there are gory details but nothing just for cheap shock value. Tension is severely taut in this one. I was chewing my lip and sitting wide eyed at a particular scene at the end. Dark and gritty finale - some disturbing stuff and interesting too. 4/5
The Yattering and the Jack is whimsical and mildly amusing. The story shows the POV of a lower-level repulsive type of demon who is trying to ruin a man’s life and break him in the process. To his annoyance, this man seems to have no breaking point. There were amusing areas but I didn’t outright laugh. Que Sera, Sera…3/5
‘Pig Blood Blues’ starts off reminding me of those redundant school type movies that glorified in teen rebellion in the 80’s and 90’s. You know, the one where a decent person starts at a new school, wanting to teach and do well, but the kids are hellions and the governing figures don’t seem to give a damn. Then the other adults start getting a bit too out there with some of the kids, and flashes of the Wicker Man start burning in my head. Finally it just ends up leaving me with the memory of those nasty little pigs from that Hannibal scene in the movie. Quite disturbing. 3/5
Sex, Death and Starshine is my personal favorite. It revives the old magic of the theatre, a love which apparently transcends death for the dearly departed. I give little thought toward theatre, but Barker is a fan in real life, and it shows through his words as he convincingly weaves his web on yours truly. I also ended up feeling the nostalgia, the magic. There’s some cheesiness I’d like to dust off from the second half, but the story shines the strongest because of a subtle, still eeriness that one can’t put into effective words. 4/5
For the last offering, ‘In the Hills, the Cities,’ I liked the beginning banter between the two mains but became bored after. I dug the unique plot creation and the sociological, potent basis of it, but couldn’t hold focus in between that. 2/5
Overall this anthology is the ideal length – a groovy, gory intro story followed by five tales that offer disturbing doses of disturbed reality in completely different ways. This anthology deserves to be read and known, Barker did a great job creating unease and clearly has a poetic license to boot.
Author's Note from an Introduction about the Book/Series:
Reflecting back after 14 years, Barker writes:
"I look at these pieces and I don't think the man who wrote them is alive in me anymore.... We are all our own graveyards I believe; we squat amongst the tombs of the people we were. If we're healthy, every day is a celebration, a Day of the Dead, in which we give thanks for the lives that we lived; and if we are neurotic we brood and mourn and wish that the past was still present.
Reading these stories over, I feel a little of both. Some of the simple energies that made these words flow through my pen--that made the phrases felicitous and the ideas sing--have gone. I lost their maker a long time ago."