Mister B. Gone
by Clive Barker
Review by John Berlyne
HarperVoyager Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780007262618
Date: 23 October 2007 List Price £15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Clive Barker is back and, as usual, on top form with this new shortish novel, Mister B. Gone - essentially a memoir penned by a hell demon. Funny and macabre, it displays Barker at his impish best and is sure to be big Halloween hit. More info on this release can be found on the author's web site.
Clive Barker has long been one of the most powerful creative forces in the horror genre. He has applied his uncanny energy and versatility to every corner of the field - from movies, to comics, to art, to plays, to gaming and of course to writing in both novel and shorter fiction forms. His recent Abarat novels, aimed towards the younger end of the market were brilliantly conceived and beautifully produced books, lavishly illustrated by the author throughout, but not since 2001 with Hollywood ghost tale Coldheart Canyon, has Barker offered a dark novel for grown-up readers. Given the long wait, Barker's brand new - albeit shortish novel - Mr B. Gone is a most welcome release and it has all the energy, drive and imaginative momentum that readers could possibly wish for.
Mr B. Gone is essentially a memoir, albeit one with both Picaresque and uniquely Barkeresque influences. Written entirely in the first person, it charts the life story of a demon, one Jakabok Botch, an entity from the ninth circle of hell, and one trapped within the pages of the very book one is reading. This conceit, reminiscent of the whimsical narrative device employed by James Morrow in The Last Witchfinder forms the backbone of Barker's novel, although it is certainly utilised in a far darker and far more sinister fashion than it is in Morrow's book. Our demon entreats us from the very opening sentence to release him from his paper cage, pleading with us to end his torment and to burn the book without reading any further. As we inevitably continue to turn the pages, the pleas turn to bribes, with Jakabok trading stories of his life in return for our co-operation in bringing about his end. As we read further still, the bribes develop into threats and so on.
What is particularly brilliant here is Barkers assured pacing of the story. What begins as whimsy – a naughty imp with a cheeky turn of phrase, develops and darkens into something genuinely worthy of attention. Our indulgent smiles at being part of the joke recede as Barker turns the screw and what began, I felt, like a young adult story, is revealed to be something far more sophisticated. No longer a simple tale of a mischievous fiend, Mr B. Gone - without ever losing it's playfulness - veers into some very ugly narrative territory. Truly horrible things are enacted by the protagonist. Patricide and murders of all shapes and sizes are described in vivid and graphic technicolour – yet never does Jakabok become unsympathetic in our eyes. Clearly it is possible to have one's main character perform despicable acts if one begins with a whimsical premise – but I doubt many other writers could have pulled this off so poetically as Barker does. And into this colourful and macabre mix, Barker weaves both a love story and a fascinating commentary on the awesome potency of words "In the beginning was The Word…." It's a very impressive and powerful stuff, all handled with a paradoxical weighty wisdom and tongue in cheek lightness of touch that is a credit to Barker's quite extraordinary talent.