Mister B. Gone
Hardcover, $24.95 (review based on uncorrected proof)
Reviewed by Sheila Merritt
In his latest novel, Clive Barker again pushes the envelope. This time, it is the very structure of the book that is unusual. The reader is taunted, teased, and tormented by a lesser demon who professes, literally, to be embodied in the book. The words, the paper, the print, are said to be Jakabok Botch incarnate. His success as a demon is less than stellar, but he thinks the reader is someone with whom toying can be fun, profitable, and life sustaining. It is a challenging tome that promotes thought, and often irreverent laughter. Authority and religion take some heavy knocks and are given black eyes as Barker continues his relentless tweaking of the genre.
In lesser hands, going beyond the usual concept of the first person narrative could be perceived as merely a clever literary conceit. Mr. Barker/ Mister B. Gone, however, command an interaction between reader and writer that is a deliciously devilish blend of temptation tango and cataclysmic calypso. It is a diabolical dance in which each participant must be engaged.
Jakabok Botch, also known as Mister B., establishes the relationship between himself and the reader early on: “I’m right here on this page in front of you. I’m staring out of the words right now, moving along the lines as your eyes follow them. You see the blur between the words? That’s me moving. You feel the book shake a little? Come on, don’t be a coward. You felt it. Admit it. Admit it.”
Mr. Barker and Mister B. clearly revel in writing. Mister B. covets the cachet that comes with being an author: “I know the kind of life authors get to live. Up in the morning, doesn’t matter how late, stumbles to his desk without bothering to bathe, then he sits down, lights a cigar, drinks his sweet tea, and writes whatever rubbish comes into his head. What a life!”
Mister B., in contrast, has not had so simple a life, and that makes for a grand tale. Despite his numerous pleas and admonitions to “Burn this book,” the reader will forge ahead. The gauntlet has been thrown, the challenge acknowledged. Through the chaos, carnage, corruption, and corpses the reader is committed to stay the course. It is a seduction by sentences; a wooing by words.
Clive Barker’s latest work reaffirms that he has never been one to “paint by numbers” and rely on previous structure or plotlines to ensure a pat response. He makes demands of his readers, and those willing to accept this are richly rewarded. There is a reminder in Mister B. Gone that “life–any life–is like a book. For one thing, it has blank pages at both ends.”
“Burn this book”? Not likely.
Note: The reviewer, who didn’t burn this book, was forced to evacuate during the recent fires in Southern California. Food for thought? Maybe “Devil’s Food” for thought.