Written by: Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
Whatever you do, don’t read this review.
You don’t want to hear about a demon trapped in the pages of an antique book, do you? Or about an experiment in metafiction by one of the greatest living masters of horror? Leave this webpage before it’s too late. Forget the URL. Smash your computer.
Still here? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Mister B. Gone marks Clive Barker’s return to adult horror after spending several years on his Abarat series for young adults. The narrator, one Jakabok Botch, claims to be a demon from Hell trapped in the book. His first words, even before the story starts, urge the reader, “Burn this book.” Destroy it before his story destroys you.
Barker takes a risk here. Many people find this kind of direct address distracting, or worse, cutesy. However, if one gives the author the benefit of the doubt, a full story unfolds in the novel. Barker touches on love, desire and loss, the place of humanity in the universe, and the battle between Heaven and Hell. Botch the demon claims to reveal great secrets in the conflict between good and evil.
Yet the novel is less about the demon Botch (the Mister B. of the title) and more a postmodern reflection on the power and impotence of words.
The power of language is a recurring theme in Barker’s works. Several times in reading Mister B. Gone, I thought of the epigram to the Books of Blood: “Everybody is a book of blood: wherever we’re opened, we’re red.”
Yet Mister B.’s words never have their desired effect. The reader doesn’t burn the book and put him out of his misery but reads on to the bitter end, forcing the narrator to display his inner self to our voyeuristic eyes. The great horror in the novel lies in our complicity to Mister B.’s defeat. He bares his soul to us and we violate it again.
A powerful lesson on the impotence of words.
This message is somewhat muted by uneven copyediting, usually a matter of absent or extra quotation marks. More annoying are the instances of Ares Grammatica where Ars Grammatica is clearly meant. Autocorrect strikes again.
Besides these cosmetic issues, I wonder if Barker’s work is perhaps a generation too late. Part of the story’s effect depends on holding a physical book in one’s hand. Both the hardcover and trade paperback editions of Mister B. Gone are well designed. The dark cover bears an arabesque that suggests Botch’s staring face. The pages are printed with a yellow cast to give them an antique look, all to help with the suspension of disbelief.
But I read the novel in its e-book format. No pages to turn, no physical book to burn. Thus Mister B.’s constant reference to his book prison took me out of the story. I wasn’t experiencing his tale in the way his words want me too.
I imagine that Barker could have changed his metaphor, trapping the demon in an electronic file and urging the reader to delete the file unread. That, however, would have radically changed the story. Perhaps the irony of reading the electronic version of a cursed book only underscores Mister B. Gone’s reflections on the power and impotence of language.
If you were foolish enough to ignore my warning and read this review to the end, Mister B. Gone may be for you. This is horror for a thinking reader. But I recommend the physical book.
Order this one right here.