{Feature} The Age Of Desire: James Bennett – The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar (Door 17)

The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar

Door 17

The Age Of Desire

James Bennett

KR: Door 16: Down, Satan! – T.J. Tranchell

The Age Of Desire

Men’s supply of passion, she knew of long experience, was easily depleted. Though they might threaten to move earth and heaven too, half an hour later their boasts would be damp sheets and resentment. “ – Clive Barker

The Age of Desire’ recounts the fallout of Project Blind Boy, an experiment to develop a chemical aphrodisiac that goes disastrously wrong (to put it mildly). The Frankenstein-esque parallels are clear from the start as police detective Carnegie responds to an alarm in a laboratory and finds the aftermath of the endeavour in question. The cameras are set up to record some scientific event and suggest something straight out of a B-movie, the screaming rhesus monkeys in cages lending tension to the scene, but nothing prepares Carnegie for the sight of a murdered scientist, the woman torn apart, her heart ripped from her breast. When it becomes clear she was raped, a game of cat-and-mouse ensues as the detective hunts down the killer.

On the surface, the plot reads like a straightforward psychological thriller, one in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs. In the hands of a master like Clive Barker, we’re presented with one his most visceral, sexual and edgiest stories of all. We learn that Jerome, the test subject of Project Blind Boy, volunteered for an injection that elevates his sex drive to an animalistic degree – and the ‘animal’ is starkly on display throughout the story, from the aforementioned monkeys to the palpable smell of fucking that hangs in the air. Barker does an excellent job of both enticing and repelling the reader as the conflict between body and mind, hunter and hunted plays out. Enflamed by the drug, Jerome becomes a symbolic ‘burning man’, a living torch of flesh and unbridled desire, and these primal themes colour the story, juxtaposed against the modern dereliction that haunts much of Barker’s oeuvre.

In ‘The Age of Desire’, Barker is probing his darkest depths, pondering what happens when social reservation and moral restraint are removed from the human libido – and his conclusions are far from pretty! Nerves on fire, enslaved by lust, Jerome goes on to rape and ravage across the city – man, woman, beast and even a crack in a brick wall are his indiscriminate victims – while he rips out the hearts of his victims in the process, sent into a frenzy of lust by their racing beat in his ears.

The gritty thrust of the text retains its shock to this day. In fact, one wonders how readers might have greeted the story were it released today, in the harsh light of social media reaction and heightened public mores. Readers be warned. This is a tale of rape and murder, and no mistake, with a close-to-the-bone motif of empathy for the perpetrator and no easy answers. That aside, Barker is the visionary Horror artist of our times and he balances the carnal brutality of the text with a grace note of pathos.

Unable to control himself, Jerome finds himself gripped by guilt for his atrocities. His cock is ‘red raw’, (a metaphor for the pain that he’s experiencing himself), violated as he is beyond reason by the drug. In this fashion, Jerome is both villain and victim, and serves as an echo of the titular monster of Shelley’s classic novel, begging questions of his cruel circumstances even as he revels in wanton destruction. It’s a parallel that might’ve seemed crass in other hands. Barker, with grisly aplomb, makes the story sing.

When Detective Carnegie finally catches up with the killer, we’re left with nothing but pity for Jerome as his Roman candle burns out, his dying breaths reserved for a laugh at a joke that the author never shares with us. It’s a haunting coda to an operatic piece of body horror, and like all the best stories in The Books of Blood, ‘The Age of Desire’ leaves the reader unsettled, appalled and thrilled by the ride.

James Bennett

James Bennett is a British writer raised in Sussex and South Africa. His travels have furnished him with an abiding love of different cultures, history and mythology. His short fiction has appeared internationally and his debut novel CHASING EMBERS was shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Awards 2017.

James lives in Spain where he’s currently at work on a new Fantasy novel.

Feel free to follow him on Twitter: @Benjurigan

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