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Clive Barker's "Mister B. Gone" Here to Stay

Although Clive Barker is well known for having many irons in the fire at any given time (movies, video games, comic books), the release of a new novel remains an event of special significance. October saw the release of "Mister B. Gone," which is a remarkable Clive Barker novel for several reasons. It might just be one of the most important horror novels of a generation, for one thing, and although it's a playful book in many regards, there are some fairly heavy thematic concerns within its possessed pages—and not a few curiosities.

The first thing that jumps out at any reader familiar with Clive's staggering body of work is that "Mister B. Gone" is a slender volume. Then the reader appreciates the care that has been taken to make the pages look as old as the narrative is supposed to be. Upon reading the text, it becomes clear that it's Clive's first novel to employ first-person narration. Next, the reader is likely to disappear into the rolicking fantasy–adventure elements of the story and not come up for air until the final page has been turned.

"Mister B. Gone" is classic Clive in some respects. The idea of giving a demon a sort of ambiguous morality is a great example of this. I'm on the side of Jakabok and Quitoon in their plottings of revenge against hypocrital men of the cloth, for instance. And I feel bad for Mr. B. when his partner turns against him. Yet when he shows his true colors (as in the bathing-in-baby-blood scene*, or near the end when his personality transforms after witnessing the work of the angels in Mainz), he's every inch the demon. Reading the book, I couldn't help but marvel that it was conceived as a diversion from the apparently much darker "Scarlet Gospels." I'm sure many questions about how the two books are connected (or differentiated) thematically will come to mind when "The Scarlet Gospels" sees the light of day, since they both deal with Hell.

A specific issue that occurred to me while reading "Mister B. Gone" concerns the hero's sexuality. Had I picked up the book without knowing anything about the author, I might have wondered if it was an indictment against homosexuality, since Botch and Quitoon are both gay and demons. Knowing, however, that it was written by Clive Barker, I sensed this was yet another ambiguous wink. He's very seldom dualistic—or heavy handed—with his morality, after all. Plus, he's gay! If there's an autobiographical element to this aspect of the novel, maybe it's simply that it's more honest and digestible for a writer to depict himself as being a bit of a rascal than to give himself wings and a halo.

To its credit, "Mister B. Gone" can be read just for the action-packed fun of it all, but there are things trembling beneath the surface. I don't re-read a lot of books, but I have a feeling I'll be going back to this one before long. Still, I do have a criticism. I was surprised at how many typographical errors there were in the first U.S. edition. I suppose this will get cleared up in subsequent printings, but it struck me as unusual for a Clive Barker novel. Maybe Jakabok isn't so picky about these things!

But other than that, it's an enormously fun adventure, with moments, by turns, of great savagery, enlightenment, pity, and yearning. And it's so damn clever. Anyway, the novel will be read for a long time. It has the kind of dark fairy-tale quality that will never go out of fashion. A certain type of reader will always be there to discover it. My guess is that it will be many people's introduction to Clive in the future because it's so brief and accessible.—Pete Mesling

* There's a scene in this book in which Jakabok lovingly bathes in a tub filled with the blood of abducted infants. We learn the townspeople are on to him, since there was a hole in his baby bag, and he left a trail of children, like bread crumbs, on his way back to his hovel. Jakabok complains to Quitoon about how difficult it was to keep them alive so that the bath would be warm when he emptied their blood into the tub. Sorry folks, but that kind of stuff gives me the shakes. And you see what I mean about the dark fairy-tale aspect ...


Posted by Pete on December 10, 2007 12:48 AM
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i have not finished Mister B. Gone yet but i already am having trouble putting it down. there is no way i am burning this book!

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