Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For Just Doesn't Cut It: A Look at The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

“So intent was Frank upon solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s Box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring.” –Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart

Did you know that “the seasons long for each other, like men and women, in order that they may be cured of their excesses?” That the world itself is apparently so overcome with lust that even the seasons experience it, sweating and freezing for each other like four lovers in a never-ending battle of unrequited passion? That in a world such as this everybody has unspoken yearnings they must either give in to or die resisting? No? Then you should read Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart and get a quick, lyrical, oh-so-creepy look at the birds, the bees, and the things they make us do.

The book begins and ends with a box. A box that if opened correctly can summon a peculiar brand of demon. These demons call themselves the Cenobites and they specialize in providing those who summon them with so-called unimaginable pleasure. Trouble is, the Cenobites, being inhuman, have trouble distinguishing pleasure from pain and this, understandably, has some sadomasochistic consequences. Throughout the course of the story, the box disrupts the lives of four very different people—Frank, Julia, Rory, and Kirsty—who, like the four seasons, are a jumble of frustrated passions, longing for things they can’t (or shouldn’t) have. To reveal how they’re connected would spoil the meat of the book but it’s appropriately complicated and utterly real. It’s to Barker’s credit that the emotions at hand never descend to the realms of soap opera even as the story itself grows more and more outrageous (and horrific). The path to fulfilling one’s darkest desires turns out to be slippery slope and nobody reaches the bottom unscathed.

Be forewarned. This book isn’t for everyone (for awhile there I wasn’t even sure it was for me). The psychological scares rely largely on how far your imagination is willing to go which is always a potential Forest of No Return. And it’s gory. Oh, so very, very gory. Skin that has no idea who it belongs to. Hooks going where no hooks should EVER go. Descriptions of sensory overload so extreme I had to put the book down more than once. Crude bodily functions. The worst “come hither” catchphrase ever. A lot of blood. And as if it needs repeating…sadomasochistic demons. More appropriately, sadistic demons who really don’t care if you’re a masochist or not. Oucheroo. Still, if you can dig that (or learn to) it’s a heck of a ride. I read this in two big gulps and it kept me entertained throughout—once I got past that first chapter.

Barker is an excellent, imaginative writer. If you think beautiful prose can’t exist alongside the aforementioned activities, think again. Certain passages read like poetry even when describing the most sickening things. This wasn’t my introduction to Clive Barker (thanks to The Thief of Always, I always dread that “great gray beast February”) so I was not surprised, but I was still impressed, exhilarated, thrilled, and when I had finished it, eager to share.

The Hellbound Heart was made into the movie Hellraiser in 1987. It was written and directed by Barker himself. Despite its status as a modern classic and place of honor on the List (number 19!), I doubt I’ll be watching it anytime soon. Not only does it sound like Barker made some significant changes to his own story, but this is the kind of trip I would like to keep in my imagination for awhile.

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