by Clive Barker
Mister B. Gone purports to be a 600 year old manuscript imprisoning the eponymous minor demon forever. Periodically throughout the book, the demon begs you to burn the novel, freeing him from the endless cold torment of his dungeon. When you refuse, he tries to pursuade you by telling the story of his life in all its villainy and horror. It’s not a bad read, but not really that great, either. Some more comments below, though I must warn you there are spoilers ahead.
- In many ways, it’s a bildungsroman about a young demon making his way in the world. It’s gruesome and detailed and, before you know it, the story ends. I’m not sure what it is about the shape of the story, but it feels like it never gives the main demon time to get rolling before we reach the conclusion.
- It’s also a story about storytelling. As I wrote above, Jabotok (that’s the demon’s formal name) exhorts, pleads, threatens, and chides you to burn the book at every turn. While it gets a little tiresome at times, it also wears on you a little bit. One of his threats has to do with the idea that reading to the end of the book will release him from its pages and, cynic and modern person though you are, you can’t help but ponder for a moment what an utter horror it would be if it were true. Of course, working in the novel’s disfavor, in that regard, is its publication. A one-of-a-kind manuscript would be much more convincing in this way. But it continually reflects on the idea that you won’t stop reading, and calls you both stupid and cruel for continuing.
- The end of the book turns, too, on the immense value of the printing press for humankind, and the dark Secret, that Heaven and Hell are in a detante, and that they’ve divided up the world in order to maintain the balance between them. Grim, but also an amusing and cynical idea.
- Where Barker succeeds the best are, as usual, the passages of extreme horror blended seamlessly into the story. As a demon, the title character engages in a number of appalling acts that are communicated in nauseating detail and yet don’t make you completely dislike him. It’s the power of the first person narrator, to bend the reader to sympathy even as we revile the acts s/he engages in.
- Finally, and this is a little thing, the title really bugs me. The main character’s name is Jakabok Botch, but he goes by Mister B among friends. The title doesn’t really make a lot of sense and feels, to me, like a cute pun.
Overall, not a bad book, but not Barker’s best either. I enjoyed both The Great and Secret Show and Arabat more.