cover image CLIVE BARKER: The Dark Fantastic

CLIVE BARKER: The Dark Fantastic

Douglas E. Winter, . . HarperCollins, $34.95 (688pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621392-7

Since his advent as the enfant terrible of horror fiction in the 1980s, Clive Barker has adopted nearly as many guises as his polymorphic Nightbreed: novelist, playwright, illustrator, screenwriter, director, producer and actor. Like his restlessly creative career, this comprehensive critical biography is ambitious if a bit unwieldy. Winter takes the same tack he followed in his exemplary Stephen King: The Art of Darkness (1984), interweaving detailed critical study of his subject's work with appreciative biography and cultural critique to fashion a portrait of the artist. The book's structure is dictated by Barker's primary texts in fiction, film and theater. Winter evaluates each in chronological order, as successive steps in Barker's ongoing evolution as an artist of "the fantastique." Though there are many illuminating insights on how Barker's fiction has been shaped by his private life—including his childhood in Liverpool, his homosexuality and his love-hate relationship with Hollywood—the book's obligatory biographical content reads mostly like an addendum to the critical analysis. Hyperbole is inevitable in some estimations—the transgressive tales in Barker's groundbreaking Books of Blood are credited with "redeeming the literature of the dark fantastic from the confines of mass marketing"—but Winter's explication of a coherent vision that unifies Barker's work and elevates it above much in the genres to which it is pigeonholed is persuasive and corroborated by an abundance of Barker's own articulate observations ("All horror heals. It opens some wounds and shows you how to close them again"). Barker, who will turn 50 this year, is himself still a work in progress. At the very least, this rewarding book offers an attractively posed snapshot of his creative life to date. (July)

FYI:"The Wood on the Hill," an unpublished tale from Barker's teenage years, is included as an appendix.