I am just past the halfway point in Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, the novella upon which the orginal “Hellraiser” movie was based. This is one really terrific read. It is one of those that is hard to put down, even though you know what happens next, because the movie, which you saw twenty years ago and have seen periodically since then, so closely resembles the book.
The prose is simple, but not Hemingway simple, and there are moments of actual narrative beauty (such as when Barker poignantly describes the passing of seasons in the beginning of one chapter) that seem to be glimpses of insight into a latent aspect of Barker’s immense talent: that he is able to write actually artistic prose that captures a moment, an emotion, or a sensation with a light touch that carries over to the reader. I have read the first two volumes (so far) of Barker’s Books of Blood and this quality seems to be lacking in them. In Books of Blood, he writes splendidly, but not beautifully, not poignantly.
I also love the way he keeps his characters to a minimum, so that seeing the complex relationships between them is easy.
Another fascinating aspect of Barker’s storytelling in this instance is that he can put his characters in horrifying situations, yet he does not try to be any more graphic than is necessary to invoke an emotional response in the ready. The few truly graphic scenes I have encountered so far are graphic, but not gratuitously graphic. An example would be when the recently-resurrected Frank starts to have sex with with brother’s wife Julia. He shows the act beginning and ends the chapter leaving what happens up to the reader’s imagination. Yes, this is an old trick straight out of made-for-TV movies, but do you really need to visualize every gory detail of a woman having sex with someone who is still half-corpse? I didn’t. And seeing that would not have helped the storytelling and if anything, it would have only detracted from it. Besides, if someone wants to visualize that unnerving scene for themselves, they are going to whether or not Barker describes it for them. All that is necessary to show the development of the characters and the plot is to show that they did have sex, because that act in itself shows something about them. About Frank it show how incredibly callous he is to Julia and how centered he is in the world of his own pleasure. About Julia, it shows her love for Frank is so self-sacrificing that she is willing to commit the most vile acts for him while taking obscene pleasure in them in her own way.
Anyway, those are just a few notes so far. I need to have dinner and do some housework and to read more of this fascinating work. Hopefully, I will be able to write more soon.