Clive Barker’s "The Hellbound Heart" Has Everything You Want in a Horror Novel
As Halloween draws near, many people like to indulge themselves with a scary book, and I’m no different. I picked The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. It tells the tale of Frank, a man who doesn’t know when to stop. Having tried every sexual thrill imaginable and still finding himself insatiable, Frank becomes crestfallen, joyless, and numb to life. At the beginning of the novel, Frank summons the Cenobites using an intricate music box called Lemarchand’s Box. He performs the ritual and solves the box’s puzzle, hoping that sensual pleasures beyond imagination will be his. Instead, the Cenobites take him to hell and torture him.
Yet Frank is not quite in hell; he is also in the room where he performed the ritual, but can’t be seen. Frank is no longer a body but an eerie feeling, he’s trapped in limbo until newly-weds, Rory and Julia, move into the deserted house.
Rory is Frank’s less interesting brother, and Julia is his now bored, dissatisfied wife who secretly loves dangerous and desperate Frank. When Rory accidentally gouges his hand while making house repairs, it falls to the floor and nourishes Frank’s spirit enough to make contact with Julia, and persuade her to bring him human sacrifices so that he might be whole again.
What I liked best were the descriptions. Barker should’ve been a poet. Though his prose teeters dangerously close to becoming purple, his writing is clear and has a nice rhythm:
“Spring if it lingers more than a week beyond its span, starts to hunger for summer to end the days of perpetual promise. Summer in turn soon begins to sweat for something to quench its heat, and the mellowest of autumns will tire of gentility at last, and ache for a quick sharp frost to kill its fruitfulness.”
The main weakness of this novel is poor character development. All the characters are flat. Clive Barker has written better novels, one of my favorites being Mister B. Gone, which tells of a demon pulled from hell to witness a pivotal time of history. That novel is fun, whimsical, and quite unique while The Hellbound Heart is a generic horror story that takes itself too seriously, but it’s still a fun read. Find both of these novels in our library catalog, or on our e-book platform, Hoopla.
We have plenty of other titles by Clive Barker, and I personally plan to read his other books.
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