Book Review: Cabal by Clive Barker

Comprised of the novel Cabal, as well as four (long) short stories, this horror novel is typical Clive Barker, and you must enjoy horror to read this book. With his descriptions, little is left to the imagination, and this is definitely for the 18-and-over crowd.  This story is violent and depraved from the very start. Boone, our protagonist, is seeing his psychiatrist, Decker, discussing a series of serial murders Boone committed but cannot remember. We learn early on that Boone is innocent; Decker is the serial killer and has been using his influence as Boone’s doctor to convince Boone that he is lucky.

One thing leads to another, and Boone ends up in Midian, the location of Necropolis inhabited by the Nightbreed, a strange community of ghost-vampire-shapeshifter beings that make Boone one of their own.

Much of the story was told through the point of view of Lori. While Boone was alive, she was his girlfriend, and she is so devoted (despite Boone’s inability to fully give himself to the relationship while alive) that she follows Boone to Midian, willing to give her life to be with him forever.

What I enjoyed about the story is how the characters all seem shaded by death (remember that I enjoy horror novels). They are all torn and tormented by something or another. Lori and Boone, unable to fully consummate their relationship while alive, find completion after Boone joins the Nightbreed. Decker, the serial killer, takes great pleasure out of his deeds, but he does so in obedience to the Mask, the disguise he wears while killing. I almost felt sorry for him, as his killing sprees seemed to be beyond his control. (Note I said “almost”—the guy is still a serial killer!).

The book does have graphic scenes, describing the residents of Midian, gruesome murders, and sex, so it’s not for the faint of heart. The four (long) short stories in the book continue the theme of death, with most characters being tormented and torn as in the novel. Most of all, I enjoyed Barker’s language. There was one line that stood out to me—we’re in the serial killer’s point of view, and the phrase used to describe the wound he imposes on his victim is the wound “he fathered,” capturing at once a fatherly sense of pride at the horrendous act, the feeling of power connoted by being a father over someone, and also a slight sexual rise, as the act is compared almost to rape—the forceful taking of her life. Yes, it’s a gruesome topic, but a good piece of writing will evoke a reaction, and this one certainly did.

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