Human cells die, and new cells regenerate in their place. After seven years, you are a completely new man. Clive Barker is Exhibit A of the hypothesis. The man who wrote great short stories like “Dread” has clearly been processed into skin flakes and loose hair and motes of dust, and in his place is…this man. Mister B Gone is rat shit. If Clive Barker can do no better than this, then I hope he never writes another book.
It’s a written as the account of a demon who has escaped from hell via a fishing net (one of the perks of being a “fantasist” or whatever is being able to develop the plot via random spurts of Dadaist nonsense) and his adventures wandering the earth. Eventually he encounters Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, which is the subject of a war between the forces of heaven and hell. One of Clive Barker’s recurrent ideas is that God and the Devil are not the embodiments of good and evil, but more along the lines of political rivals waging turf wars over corporeal fiefdoms.
The book doesn’t have a fourth wall. Jakobok the demon addresses the reader directly and urges him to burn the book, lest he damn his soul. The first time this happened I smiled. The second time made the corners of my mouth upturn by a zeptometer. The third time make me feel the inklings of fear. “He’s not going to do this through the whole book, is he?” By the tenth time I successfully trained my eyes to skip any paragraph containing the phrase “burn this book,” and I thereby greatly shortened my reading time.
What’s the point of such an annoying and persistent plot device? What’s the goal here, Barker? Is it to irritate the reader? I felt like I was reading a novelised version of that Paul Provenza/Penn Jillette Aristocrats movie, with a hundred comedians all telling the same joke, one after the other, and all of them acting like it’s fresh and new.
The story is worthless and uninteresting. Lots of events happen, but Clive Barker never brings any interest to any of them. It’s about demons and angels but I feel like I’m reading about sitcom characters. There are scenes in Hell that make it seem like Dogpatch with extra fire. Maybe that’s Mister B Gone’s biggest crime. It makes the supernatural seem dull and boring.
Clive Barker’s characterisation, never good, here reaches a new low. If you packed every character in Mister B Gone into an apple cart and pushed it off a cliff, I would be worried about the welfare of the apple cart.
Incredibly, this is Clive Barker’s first novel since 2001, discounting the Abarat books (which don’t sound interesting enough for me to want to read). Perhaps that’s the explanation. Maybe he’s more into screenplays and games and action figures these days. But shouldn’t a genius produce great work even when he half-asses things? They say Stephen King wrote The Running man in a single week…
In the meanwhile, someone please harvest the dust from Clive Barker’s house circa the Reagan presidency and put it to good use!