I recently finished reading The Scarlet Gospels, by famed horror author Clive Barker. I usually like Barker’s work and have been a fan of his for a long time but this book was a huge let down. I haven’t always liked everything he’s done but usually the darker stuff he creates is great. The last Barker book I read was Mister B. Gone and I loved it. His descriptions of demons and Hell in that book are a world above what he penned in Gospels.
I’ve read several reviews on The Scarlet Gospels now and they range from utter disgust to elation – there seems to be no middle ground. I’ve also seen several people accuse Barker of using a ghost writer for the last 2/3 of the book. After reading it, I’m not so sure about that theory but I will tell you this: it sure ain’t the Barker of old!
I learned a few things about Clive Barker over the past few years that changed my opinion of him. Probably the biggest thing that shook me was learning that he loathes what the Hellraiser film series has become.
One of my favorite books is an anthology called Hellbound Hearts, which has Hellraiser as a theme with short stories by various authors. It’s an amazing book and one that I did not want to end. I cannot say the same about The Scarlet Gospels. I had hope that Gospels would be as good as Hellbound. Alas, not even close.
If you read the introduction to The Books of Blood 1-3, Barker tells us that he hates being known as the “horror guy.” He’s spent the past few years delving into other subject matter, including young adult fantasy fiction. So when news broke that he was returning to Hell, I was both shocked and skeptical.
Still, I also learned that Barker almost died and I know that kind of experience can change everything about a person, including their creativity flow. Not to mention that he lost his parents, his longtime partner and another friend he considered a son as well. Oh, and he’s also revealed that he was a male prostitute for a time, early in his writing career when he was struggling to make ends meet.
So it’s no surprise then that The Scarlet Gospels feels like anything but Clive Barker because the man who wrote The Hellbound Heart is not the same man and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is The Scarlet Gospels. It sucks.