The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar
The Life Of Death
KR: Door 19: Babel’s Children – Hugh McStay
The Life Of Death
“She had so much to do; so many wasted, grieving days to catch up on. An apt phrase flitted into her head. Redeem the time. She wrote the three words on her notebook as a reminder. Where did they come from? She couldn’t recall. It didn’t matter. Sometimes there was wisdom in forgetting.” – Clive Barker
So, this will come as no surprise to those of you who know me, but I am a huge Clive Barker fan. At one point, I had his entire collection of the Books of Blood. But sadly, as life intervened, that collection ‘disappeared’ at a point in my life along with my Jump Tribe toys that Clive Barker created. When Gavin (Kendall Reviews) gave me the opportunity to re-read and review a Clive Barker story, of course, I have dived on this project like a Cat into catnip. Going back to this story in Volume 6 of the Books of Blood was like revisiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. I forgot how much I loved reading his work, especially this morbid tale.
The Life of Death follows Elaine, and we get a short introduction to her in her doctor’s office waiting for her examination. It’s never let on the sort of thing she had surgery for only that she is healing up nicely; as the story continues, details slowly slip out. Another reason I love the story is that Barker doesn’t dump information. He makes you crave the details by giving snippets here and there, but mostly it’s Elaine’s emotions that tell the story.
I think the reason I like this character is that I relate to her almost instantly. The pains after walking for a specific time, nausea when you’re trying to eat, and the cold make her scars hurt. I can honestly say I’ve been there, or instead, still there. Though my condition is nothing as serious as Elaine’s, I still understand her pain to a degree.
Elaine’s story leads us to a quiet cafe, and Elaine knows she must eat, but her body is telling her another story. Much to the displeasure of the waitress, but its little details like this set the scene for how lost and uncomfortable Elaine feels around people.
Getting even more interesting, Clive has already added a level of mystery to the character, so now he sets the mood for the reader with the mysterious smoke cloud. It is drawing our main girl out towards the area where an old community centre is being pulled down to make a new one. Instead of your typical centre, it seems the building in question looks like it was once a church. It’s as she ventures into the church that we start to get a few more pieces added to the puzzle around Elaine’s character when she meets Kavanagh. Honestly, this line will stick with me as even when I re-read it, it still hurts my heart, ‘To her life saved only by losing the capacity for further life.’
I mean, ooh, what a gut punch. But now we have Kavanagh, who is indeed a bizarre but macabre character with a very intense presence. I think the dry wit and his otherworldly views of life are something that pulls Elaine to him even more. Clive creates a beautifully solemn pace with this story, and the way he shows grief and loss is brilliantly detailed. When suppressing her pain and sorrow, she has no idea that her body is reacting to her when her boss approaches her about spending the day crying in the office. It’s the simplest thing that brings her personality and pain into full view for the reader. Elaine doesn’t want to bare her soul or rely on others for help but, in doing so, locks away her emotions, ultimately doing her mental health a lot of damage. She returns to find the church has been cordoned off, meeting Kavanagh again, who distracts her from her problems. He informs Elaine of the crypt being the reason for the secrecy of the demolition team, and strangely, just like I would be. She finds her mind wandering and takes her back to church after hours to take a sneaky peek, what she finds is something that opens her mind to the world of Death. Finding an almost creepy contentment after her visit, as if at peace with the idea that she got to look upon those that Death has touched. But is still resentful about her choices being taken from her, even though the cancer has been successfully removed so has her chance of having children. But now that outlook seems to have completely changed since her adventure into the tomb. She is more social, seems to have recovered her appetite for life and well any food within a ten-mile radius. Then comes the part where her trip kind of brings about another epidemic of the plague. So, it turns out on returning to the place she found solitude she discovers that the tomb was in fact a plague pit. It seems yet again Elaine has escaped death but in turn become the carrier and spreader of this disease now killing off her friends and co-workers. How does the mysterious stranger fit into her life you may ask? Well, I know Elaine has her thoughts on who he may be, and, in all fairness, I came to the same conclusion on first reading the story. But Clive wouldn’t take the easy way out of a story, first he makes the reader believe, convinces them that Elaine is correct. Then he turns the whole story on its head in a couple of paragraphs, giving the reader a very unexpected ending and just like Elaine you hunger for more. A gripping and beautifully written story by Clive Barker and an incredible introductory story to his Books of Blood volume six, that keeps you guessing right to the very end.
Nat Whiston is from Birmingham, England and first started writing in her first voluntary job with Magazine Voice 21 as a feature writer and reviewer. When her health took its toll, her writing took a backseat. But now, intent on reinventing herself, she posts stories and reviews on her Chrystal Vixen page. She also started a YouTube channel for her book blog. She has drabbles being published with Black Ink Publishing. She was also featured in the Summer edition of SirensCall E-zine and also featured in a D&T publishing anthology and K for Kidnap, which Red Cape Publishing. Her favourite author is Clive Barker.
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