Lately I've been catching up with Clive Barker for the first time since I was thirteen. I started last year with The Books of Blood, and am currently ripping my way through his bibliography (for the most part) in chronological order. The Books of Blood are a six-volume collection of short works, the last three published in the US as In the Flesh, The Inhuman Condition, and Cabal. They were the books that put Clive on the map, and prompted Stephen King to tell the press, "He's even better than me now." If you're a fan of horror fiction, and you've somehow missed out on these...seriously, get off your ass.
Speaking as a fan of both, in many ways I agree with King. King's main strength is in storytelling, and in that department he certainly delivers, but his writing style is hit or miss. While he does have the occasional lapse into lyrical brilliance, his general down-homey shtick gets pretty hokey after awhile. Barker however has a vocabulary closer to Poe and Lovecraft than Bradbury, and uses it to craft consistently beautiful prose. Also, he's about ten times darker. Even in King's early short stories with the none-too-happy endings, there's always an element of light. In the more sinister moments of The Books of Blood, Barker seems hell-bent on finding out just how dark it can get.
I just finished In the Flesh yesterday. The two stories out of the four in this volume that stood out for me are the title story and The Forbidden. In the first, Barker marries his knack for the ghost story with his recurring theme of physical transformation. One of the aspects of the tale that I really liked was how the main character repeatedly visited an empty city in the middle of a desert in his dreams. It's that kind of surreal, fantastical atmosphere that makes Barker so much fun to read. The Forbidden, the basis for the 1992 film Candyman, tells the story of an urban legend come to life. Now that I've read it, I'm even more impressed with the movie. While remaining almost completely faithful to the source material, they stretched a short story into a very entertaining and well-paced feature. It's also one of the few occasions where I feel the story was enhanced by material added in the movie. In the book, the Candyman's origins remain ambiguous, while in the movie he's revealed to have been a slave brutally murdered by an angry mob.
And now, onto the next chapter...