Ginger Nuts of Horror
WARNING: This series contains HUGE spoilers, and is designed as discussions for people familiar with the source text. I do not wish to spoil your enjoyment of Lost Souls, so please read it before reading this. Thanks. It's available to read for free from Clive Barkers website at http://www.clivebarker.com/html/devotion/macab/stories/lost.html
As with the last post, this is my first encounter with 'Lost Souls', and my second Harry D'Amour story. We open in the middle of the story, with Harry in pursuit of a demon called Cha'Chat. This 'sublimely malignant' creature has evaded Harry long enough for him to turn in desperation to a blind clairvoyant for help, determined to send the demon back to the other side of the schism before Christmas Day. This, by the way, is all from the first four paragraphs. The economy of Barker's storytelling here is seriously impressive: we learn all this, plus the fact that D'Amour blames himself for the demon’s escape (interestingly because it pulled a very similar trick to 'the widow' in The Last Illusion), and even have time for some classic noir flavour ('...Christmas in New York; season of goodwill and suicide'). Again I am struck by the sheer confidence, bordering on bravado, in the writing. Barker casts his phrases vividly and economically, and as the reader I found myself immersed almost immediately.
By this story, the collision of noir detective and supernatural horror have become a fusion, with Barker effortlessly borrowing from the tropes of both, weaving something unique and vibrant. So the story segues from D'Amour seemingly striking out at the demon's house to a classic horror story set-up – the drunk man and the mysterious cab ride. As with the last story, it's impressive how Barker breathes such vibrancy in to such stock idea. In part of course that's down to the originality caused by the genre blend, but I think more of it is down to the prose itself – the sentences crackle with energy, with poise. The descriptions of the demon that the hapless Eddie Axel ultimately encounters are a tour de force, Barker just letting rip his imagination of the grotesque, but at the same time making the impossible feel all too plausible.
Having the ensuing bloodbath happen 'off camera' also propels the story forward, as well as leaving the reader guessing along with D'Amour what exactly has occurred – clever framing that placed me as the reader firmly over his shoulder, trying to make sense of things. And it's a great twist to have the demon Harry is hunting not be the 'big bad' after all, but the precursor to something altogether nastier.
From there, the classic noir trope of the hero being just slightly behind the curve plays out with concision, the seemingly unconnected pregnant woman we'd met earlier coming back to haunt us as the story reaches its conclusion. The final conceit is classic Barker; a possible messiah is murdered before birth, alongside the mother, by a demon (who callously remarks that the world is clearly not ready for such in any case). It's a bleak ending to the tale, not really leavened by that slight moral ambiguity, coming as it does from the mouth of one of The Gulf.
Overall, this was another deeply pleasurable read for me, and I'm beginning to understand why Harry D'Amour is spoken of so fondly by Barker fans. I'm already impatient to see what will happen with the character when he's explored in a more long form setting. I'm also again reminded just what a fierce, burning talent Barker is, and surprised by an author I think of firmly as one in the epic tradition (due to my exposure to Weaveworld and Imajica) having such skill and flair in the short form. Once this exercise is done, I suspect a lengthy trip through the Books Of Blood is in my near future...
Let me know what you thought of Lost Souls and the story so far in the comments below, and I'll see you back here soon for Part 3 – it's time to meet the Cenobites in 'The Hellbound Heart'...
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