Mr. Bark has been on an absolute tear lately, with a novel (The Final Cut) and novella (Run To Ground) release with Crystal Lake publishing, and now a novella (Bed of Crimson Joy) from KnightWatch Press.
Bed of Crimson Joy is, in many ways, vintage Bark. We’ve got inexplicable supernatural occurrences, brilliantly realised relationships, and explicit sexual content. What strongly differentiates this story from the others, for me, is the tone - whereas The Final Cut was a rollercoaster of genre and mood, and Run To Ground a brilliant comedy-horror mashup underpinned by a Barkeresque mythology, Bed Of Crimson is an altogether more melancholy affair.
The crux of this is the central relationship between Rose and Stanley, a late middle-aged couple rubbing along together. It’s this portrait that has haunted me the most since finishing the story - the quiet sadness of Rose, her unfulfilled life limping along with vague companionship in place of love. Bark draws the lines of the relationship cleanly and without sentimentality, and it’s all the more affecting for it. I was genuinely moved by Rose’s situation, all the more awful because of her own resignation and acceptance.
Horror fans will not be disappointed - once the story gets rolling in earnest, things take a very creepy turn, and the denouement is as bleak and horrifying as you could wish for. There’s a strong atmosphere throughout of inevitable doom, of macabre forces at work, pressing down on our unfortunate protagonists. Bark’s care and skill at characterisation means that I found myself caring for Rose, even as I feared for her.
Jasper Bark remains almost a paradoxical writer - at once shamelessly focussed on the prerenaily juvenile fasciations of sex and extreme horror, yet also writing with a rare intelligence, both emotional and intellectual, with a true storyteller’s ability to present real people, unflinchingly and without either sentimentality or judgement. But of course that’s a false dichotomy - sex and death basically never stop being interesting, do they? I guess what I really mean is that Bark is the full package - a man whose talent defies the literary/splatterpunk divide, and whose work is undoubtedly both.
Bed of Crimson Joy is both rollicking sex-and-guts supernatural horror and mature, even poignant reflection on mortality and the passing of time. Jasper Bark may be capable of writing a bad tale. But on current evidence, he hasn’t yet. Recommended.