Thursday, April 17, 2014

Everville by Clive Barker (1994): Infinite Dreams

(For the ever-popular Throwback Thursday, I present the following, a review I wrote for Amazon back in 1998)

Everville... the eternal city, the mythic point where this earth and the heavens meet, the "axis mundi," the crossroads of eternity and time, the sacred and the profane. Is Clive Barker the only author of these sore days who sees into these crossroads? It's a more than worthy sequel to 1989's The Great and Secret Show. Barker continually impresses me with each new book, both in the themes and characters he explores, the language he uses, and his subversion of the both the horror and fantasy genres. If I see one more book review or interview that refers to him as a "master of horror" - argh! He's got more in common with a Joseph Campbell, a William Blake, a Dali or Cocteau, than any mere horror writer. I think Everville is a very good book; but yes, I did get some smirks and sneers from my more "literary" acquaintances. Pity -they don't know what they're missing.

 2009 UK reprint

Barker's prose is as measured and musical as ever; this is the first book of his which, on several occasions, stirred me nearly to tears. While reading it, I kept a pen nearby, underlining dozens of beautiful passages. The story flows effortlessly - which it needs to, as Barker understands, as Story is the only way things of consequence get told. As he writes: And every life, however short, however meaningless it seems, is a leaf on the story tree. British-born Barker does well depicting "everyday" people in a small American town; a nice change from the distant misfits of his short stories and early novels. There is risk-taking here on his part, and yes, sometimes some of the Americana rings a tad false, and I was little let down by the literalization of Quiddity, but any writer who has the courage to revision Jesus, the Christ - the Christ of Dreams, and Dreaming - in the course of a "popular" novel, has my utmost admiration. Of course, anyone who's read Imajica or Weaveworld knows Barker does not shy away from re-imagining of what the supernatural is and what it means to those caught up in it.

 1995 UK paperback

I love Barker's depiction of reality as ever in flux, something malleable and always in transformation. As Joe Flicker asks himself, traveling through the Metacosm: "But when he slept here, and dreamed, was he entering yet another reality, beyond this one, where he might also sleep and dream?" An eternal question, asked by the ancients of all cultures. Stories and dreams have always made and remade the world; we are never satisfied with Reality. Why else would we regale ourselves with tales and visions of resurrections and journeys, virgin births and sacred mountains, men of wisdom and women of purity? All of this is "the Great and Secret Show" we never tire of, and Barker seems to effortlessly reach behind the veil and pluck out our appetites, our perversities, our loves and our hopes, our desires to comprehend these mysteries. That, I think, is the Art: a skill to divine our souls. One character, Owen Buddenbaum, desiring communion with the "gods", expresses this eloquently:

...to be free of every frailty, including love; free to live out of time, out of place, out of every particular. He would be unmade, the way divinities were unmade, because divinities were without beginning and without end: a rare and wonderful condition.

 1999 Harper trade paperback reprint

The visions in Everville are classic Barker: the creation of the Metacosm (a Jungian archetype if ever there was one) by Maeve O'Connell and Coker Ammiano - a whorehouse at the crossroads, negating the bluster about this nation being found on Christian values. Joe Flicker in the Metacosm, and absorbed into the 'Shu (marine pieces of the Creator - see Barker's sketch at bottom), then into the Iad, then a wandering spirit dreamed to glorious flesh by his lover Phoebe; the transformation of Tesla, and the glimpses she gives to Detective D'Amour of stories to come; Tommy the Death-Boy cradling a child "to his burned body, whistling for the killing cloud to follow him"; Lucien's talk of us being "vessels for the infinite"; the description of the city b'Kether Sabbat, "shaped like an inverted pyramid, balanced on its tip." Yes, all those, and more, right this way....

This is an amazing book, a gripping read, an epic in the making of "four journeys" as Barker writes: "One to the dream world, one to the real; one to the bestial; one to the divine." Like many contemporary literary novels, Everville is concerned with the act of storytelling itself, a self-conscious reflection on the creation of tales, events and characters readers know are made up but still have the power to transform and enlighten - in fact, they transform and enlighten precisely because they are created by us. Read this book carefully, savor its elegance and ferocity of imagination, and you will be uplifted. Everville - and Barker's fiction in general - is a worthy addition to the infinite branches of the story tree.

http://www.clivebarker.info/evervillebarker.html

11 comments:

Sean the Sorcerer said...

Nice review, now you've made me want to read the series. How did you like The Great and Secret Show?

Adam said...

Can somebody please explain to me why I should finish The Damnation Game...? I mean the words are fine, the atmosphere is holding, I DO wonder what the denouement will be but...Jesus, it's the definition of turgid. The Books of Blood are a pinnacle of short, economical writing; Hell, even The Hellbound Heart has thrust to it, but TDG has put me off forever on novel-length Barker...Maybe I'm missing out on a shit-ton of great material...maybe I've already gotten the best bits of what he had to say, genre-wise, out of his shorter fiction...? I dunno.

Brian Schwartz said...

I've read the Books of Blood and plan to review The Damnation Game soon for my blog. Do you reommend I start out here instead?

Will Errickson said...

Sean - I read G&SS when it came out & loved it back then but haven't reread it. But generally I can recommend any Barker. Problem is, he still has not written the third volume in this series, after 20 years! And George RR Martin fans complain about how long it takes *him*....

Will Errickson said...

Adam - that's too bad you feel that way, because I've read TDG two or three times and liked it. It's definitely the weakest of his novels tho. Try "Cabal" if you haven't, another short novel. I have heard other readers who love his short fiction complain about his longer works, so you're not alone there.

Will Errickson said...

Brian - Don't start here! For the last couple years I've been rereading Barker chronologically, so you should read "Hellbound Heart" and "Cabal" next, ease into his novels....

JP W said...

Will — as an admirer of your blog and your abilities as a reviewer, there was something early in your review that elicited a not-so-small cringe. Not for nothing, but the fact that you suffered "smirks and sneers" from your "'literary' acquaintances" can be easily explained by your review itself. That you feel the need to elevate Barker above a "mere horror writer" implicitly perpetuates the marginalization of Horror (and its writers). Clive Barker IS (and in certainly in the first decade of his career WAS) a master of horror. His greatness as a writer was cemented with his earliest works, which would only need categorization beyond "Horror" to protect them from the genre's critical stigma. The Books of Blood are great "pure" horror to the same extent that any great genre fiction is great "pure"... whatever it is. Which is to say not really pure, since no single genre can support great narrative. But it is in only Horror fiction that we insist on identifying all the contributing secondary genres to separate it from its sorry central defining characteristic. Indeed, we are compelled to explicitly dismiss the Horror tag outright. It is sad that to call something "great horror fiction" is to damn it with faint praise. Greatness shouldn't be handicapped by genre.

I recognize that this is an old review, and I rarely see this kind of defensiveness in your other reviews. But I thought that the contrast between your lamentation and your perpetuation of that sad literary standard was noteworthy.

Will Errickson said...

JP W - Thanks for the comment! I appreciate your thoughtful and perceptive explication of my "defensiveness." You’re correct, I think. I blame it on how I felt about horror fiction back then: I had been working in bookstores throughout the 1990s, and usually the horror genre was denigrated (in one bookstore the owner refused to have a separate horror section and politely castigated me when I put GREAT & SECRET SHOW on our Staff Picks shelf!).

Also - and this is much more personal - when Barker in interviews spoke of his influences outside horror, I was fascinated (in much the same way as when I first read King‘s DANSE MACABRE). It seemed this stuff did not, however, fascinate (the few) other horror fiction fans I knew or came in contact with (I couldn't listen to the questions Barker fans asked him at horror conventions, such as "What kind of shoes does Pinhead wear?"). When I was in my late teens and early 20s, Barker broadened my horizons about film, literature, and art, in a way few others ever have for me - so that defensiveness was borne of some very real frustrations I felt!

But all that is many years ago now. Today, if this blog is any indication - and I hope it is, even if I sometimes get snarky about ridiculous cover art or terrible yet popular writers - I have left that insecurity behind. My tastes are my own and don't need to be justified. I want to celebrate the books and writers I love!

Again, thanks for the great comment!

JP W said...

You’re right of course: as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Horror fans ARE their own worst enemies. (Your Pinhead/sneaker story made me laugh out loud… and then die a little inside.) All too often only the basest qualities of the genre are promoted, and only the most trivial details are celebrated. It’s why bad horror will be always be worse than bad anything else: crudeness of content combined with crudeness of style. It’s why 9 out of 10 Barker fans have distilled what makes him great into mere blood and guts, and how he spawned a cottage industry of imitators that don’t even understand what they are imitating. It’s also how certain authors (no names, but I will say that one rhymes with Flitchard Craymon) can become so depressingly revered.

The issue isn’t defensiveness, really. You are fully justified in being defensive. The issue is whether we defend great horror by reframing it as “not really horror” or by embracing the horror as central to what allows it to be great. By and large, I think that your blog is a testament to the latter. I believe that without an element of horror (even if it’s only a dash), achieving any profundity on the subject of the human condition is all but impossible. Which is also why, while I will concede that horror takes the prize as the potentially worst genre, it also can claim the title of potentially best as well.

Will Errickson said...

Hear, hear!

kevdawg55 said...

Adam, I too got bored with The Damnation Game, although when I first got back into reading all I cared about was the stack of King novel's that I could have been reading instead. I just remembered it seeming to take forever for something to happen and I abandonded it midway. That being said I'll give it another go for sure.

As for this review, I Liked the Great and Secret Show but was in no hurry to read Everville (being such a lover of book covers, a red book with a sea-shell didn't really excite me) but this review really motivates me to read it soon.