Sacrament by Clive Barker – 1996
Clive Barker has probably suffered professionally because unfortunately he was writing at the same time as that other British horror guru, James Herbert… although I’m pretty sure he’s managed to get by, so I don’t know how much hardship he’s actually gone through. Having said that, Barker generally leans far more heavily towards the fantasy end of the spectrum so they perhaps split fewer fans than I think.
I had known about Clive Barker and his standing in the dark fiction genre for a long time before I got around to reading some of his stuff. Year later I’ve still only read a few of his novels – and I don’t remember too much about any of them, so maybe that tells you all you need to know right there – but Sacrament was definitely the easiest one to get through. It’s the most grounded, and therefore the most accessible to my delicate literary palate. It would be the one I’d recommend for those wanting a soft way in.
That’s not to say that Barker’s stories are not interesting or that the writing is of poor quality, but more that his fantastical style and content is not something that I’m typically drawn to. That’s all right; we all like different things.
The Jonah by James Herbert – 1981
Oddly, it was my dad – who I would never say was a big reader – who became my first point of contact with the works of James Herbert. He was possibly the only author my dad made any time for. Back in the mid eighties I was far too young to read anything by the dark master of British horror, but that always stuck with me and when I was old enough I got through a bunch of Herbert’s novels.
The Jonah is the last Herbert novel I read, but it’s unfortunately one of his lesser offerings. It’s about a detective who has had misfortune follow him throughout his life. Despite the author’s history, it’s a dark police thriller which can only very loosely be described as horror.
The writing is fine and the narrative is moderately entertaining, but Herbert’s penchant for shoehorning in an obligatory sex scene rears its head again in a somewhat unrealistic romantic sub-plot which is signposted from miles away. However, The Jonah – for its shortcomings – is quite a short novel, so it’s not something that you will have to wade through for too long.
James Herbert was absolutely capable of producing great stuff and he produced a number of classics throughout his career. The Jonah is certainly not bad, but a classic it is not. If you want a good entry-point to his work, there are far better places to jump into the water.
James Herbert died today. He was sixty-nine years old.
My dad was a fan. In fact Moon and The Magic Cottage are probably the only two novels I saw him read. Ever. Years later – when I read both of these for myself – I thought if that was as far as my dad dipped his toe into the library of books the world had to offer, he could have done a lot worse.
I read a dozen of Herbert’s novels, and while he didn’t hit the nail squarely on the head each time, he was one of the few authors I would keep going back to every now and then, because he could always be relied upon to deliver a good, solid story, and I knew that he was capable of great things. The Fog is one of my favourite books of any genre, and definitely in the top handful of horror tales I have ever read.
He is often – unfairly, in my opinion – compared to Stephen King; partly because they both had their first novels published in 1974, but mostly because they both wrote broadly in the horror genre, albeit on opposite sides of the Atlantic pond. But the similarities really end there.
Herbert was (almost exclusively) a balls-to-the-wall horror writer, and he didn’t pull any punches with his prose. Having said that, he was never gratuitous just for the sake of it, and he didn’t care about cheap shocks either. He wrote it that way because that’s how he saw it, and I have always admired him for that.
Rest in peace, James: you will be missed.