The Great And Secret Show – Clive Barker
Reviewed by Joseph Sale
In 1989, Clive Barker published the first book in what would become popularly known as ‘The Art Trilogy’: The Great and Secret Show. The trilogy is unfinished. The second book, Everville, was published in 1994 and delves even deeper into the lore and mythos of Quiddity and the Art. The third book is, according to a 2014 Facebook post, in the works, but it’s going to be “a big book” and Barker has a lot on his plate.
The Great and Secret Show is a big book in and of itself, coming in at 700 pages. In an interview, Barker said it was one of the hardest books he ever had to write, and one can see why. Unlike The Damnation Game and many of his more straightforwardly “horror” novels (if he ever wrote such a thing), which focus on a cast of three or four central characters, The Great and Secret Show has a cast of hundreds and juggles them all with mind-blowing narrative control.
The thing about Barker is his imagination is one of the most fecund of any writer in the world. What for some storytellers would be the premise of an entire book, film, or TV series, is, for Barker, just one small part of a macro-cosmic whole. The Great and Secret Show is divided into seven parts, and each feels unique. We move from a story of an insignificant but secretly corrupt man’s rise to demi-godhood through a discovery of the “secret world” around him, to a war between two evolved beings, to a tale of four virgins collectively assaulted by a force beyond their control, to the story of a quiet American town’s demise and lost dreams, to a Lovecraftian narrative of an impending confrontation with eldritch beings. Somehow, all are intimately connected.
Before Lynch showed us Twin Peaks: The Return, and the detonation of an atomic bomb signalling the death of innocence, Barker transported us to an endless time-loop in which the moment of detonation in 1945 is only ever one minute away. And in this moment of frozen “lost” time, terrible deeds occur. Before Jordan Peele showed us the cloned mole-people of his new cinematic masterpiece Us, Barker took us into a webway of tunnels beneath Palomo Grove, and the secrets that lived there.
This book has divided critics for many years, and it’s easy to see why. It is both horror and epic fantasy and may displease fans of each. In some scenes, the metaphysical complexity of Barker’s ideas, and the sense of wonder and mystery he evokes are dazzling. In others, he gives us scenes of repulsive horror that yet are not easily quantifiable by any existing trope.
It is not a perfect book by any means. Sometimes, you can tell he is almost struggling to convey the sheer soul-flaying majesty of what his imagination has unveiled. There are times where the dialogue rings tinny or forced, or even when plot-lines converge in contrived ways. However, none of this matters, because the parts of it that ring true, that pull back the veil of the world and show the secret reality beyond it, are just too cosmically powerful to miss out on. There are moments in this that made every hair on my arm stand on end.
Barker at his best is not merely a writer or even a storyteller; he is a prophet seeing with more the mortal sight, and telling us about the world to come.
Joseph Sale is a novelist, writing coach, editor, graphic designer, artist, critic and gamer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored Seven Dark Stars, Across the Bitter Sea, Orifice, The Meaning of the Dark, Nekyia and more.
His latest novel Gods Of The Black Gate was released in November 2018 (Kendall Review), Joseph is currently working on the sequel.
He is the creator of †3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Moira Katson; each story is accompanied by original concept art from Shawn Langley and with cover art by Grand Failure.
He is an Associate Editor at Storgy Magazine where he writes features, reviews film, TV and books, and contributes fiction. He also writes for GameSpew.
His short fiction has appeared in Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. In 2014 he was nominated for the Sundress Award for Literary Excellence.
In his spare time, he plays badminton, watches Two Best Friends Play and puts on his DM hat, concocting fiendish dungeons for his friends to battle through.
You can find out more about Joseph by visiting his official website www.themindflayer.com
Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephwordsmith
Gods Of The Black Gate
“There are those who bow to darkness. And there are others to whom darkness bows.”
In 2060 Caleb Rogers and his partner Tom Marvin put away one of the most dangerous serial killers Texas has ever known: Craig Smiley, an ex-infantry mental patient who believes he can summon seven gods through a series of disturbing rituals. Caleb and Tom secured him a life sentence in Mars’s toughest prison. They thought the whole thing was finished. But when Smiley escapes the prison seven years later and sets out once again on his insane mission, Caleb and Tom are sent to Mars to track him down. Both cop and criminal are determined to finish what they started. Only the criminal will stop at nothing. Gods of the Black Gate is part thriller, part supernatural horror, part sci-fi blockbuster and at its heart: a journey of spiritual descent.