December 5, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Books of Blood: Volumes 1-3" by Clive Barker

Title: Books of Blood: Volumes One, Two, and Three

Author: Clive Barker
Published: Berkley Books (1987)
Pages: 507
Genre: Horror; Short Story Collection
ISBN 13: 9780425165584

The title alone conjures images of unspeakable terror ... though it's hard to be taken in with anticipatory dread when you're holding the 1991 Book-of-the-Month Club edition. In this day and age, when I think of book clubs I think of Oprah--scary in her own right, perhaps, but not the image you want entering your head when cracking open the pages of a book written by Clive Barker.

Whether you read his horror literature, his fantasy, his children's stories, or view his painting, you must wonder to yourself: Is there anything Clive Barker can't do?

By the gruffness of his voice, I may wager operatic singing--listen to his voice in one of his interviews and his stories will haunt you even more.

I spied this book one day on the bottom shelf of the hardcover fantasy/sci-fi/horror shelf in my local used-book store. For only a few bucks of credit, I am fortunate to have the Books of Blood in my permanent collection. And believe me, they're permanent. Should the house ever catch fire, it won't be the cat I'll be charging inside to save.

Some authors are great at horror, but when it comes to supernatural horror I'm at a loss to think of an author more artful and adept at it than Barker. And it is his tales within this book's pages that act as testament to the statement. What's disappointing is that he hasn't written more horror-themed short stories over the years. By more, I mean beyond those in this collection and in The Inhuman Condition. There are three other volumes to the Books of Blood out there somewhere, but I haven't seen them yet. If I can find them, perhaps they'll slake my thirst for Barker's short fiction.

While I found the very first volume to be the most potent among the three, that's not to discount the stories held within the latter two. I enjoyed them all, but discovered my favorites of the collection belonged to the first wave of terror. "The Book of Blood" kicks off with a kind of haunted house tale, involving a fraud who winds up becoming the epitaph for the dead and the damned. From there, it's on to the "Midnight Meat Train." A film adaptation for this story hit DVD recently, which I hope to see someday, and reading the short story has got me wondering just how in the heck the writers and director pulled it off. It's a tiny epic.

Those may be two of the most notorious tales to come out of the collection, but there are a few that I count among my favorites now. And you may too if you choose to read them. I was particularly fond of "The Yattering and Jack," "Dread"--one of the few stories to forgo any supernatural element at all--and "Rawhead Rex," which was just a brutal story from the get-go.

If I had to, I could probably pick out a weak link in the chain among all of the stories, but why bother. The entire collection is so strong, in my opinion, that if there is a story you turn sour on all you have to do is turn to the next one and you'll likely be riveted. If you're averse to blood, gore, and the macabre, you may want to steer clear of this round of stories. It's all unapologetically gruesome. Yet it's so beautifully written, detractors shouldn't be taken seriously.


  1. "Rawhead Rex" is one of my favorite Barker stories. It's just a classic monster-mash.

  2. The breadth and influence of Barker's BOOKS OF BLOOD cannot be underestimated. He's one of a kind, and these stories heralded a truly epic imagination. And while his voice may sound painful now, back in the day his Liverpudlian accent was delightful: