The Damnation Game – Clive Barker

The Damnation Game

Putnam – 1987 (Originally published 1985)
I had been meaning to read The Damnation Game for years, but I kept putting it off. While some of Clive Barker’s books are extremely long, the ones I had read were fairly unpleasant affairs (in the best way possible), and I didn’t feel ready for 370 pages of Barker’s nightmares.

While this novel is lengthy, it took me less than 4 days to finish. I couldn’t put the thing down. It was really, really good.

I’m not entirely convinced the plot made a whole lot of sense, but the writing and characters were so intriguing that it works as a novel. The basic premise is that Marty Strauss, a prisoner gets let out of jail early so he can work as a security guard for a reclusive millionaire. It seems too good to be true, but then Strauss finds out that the millionaire is being hunted by a lad who can resurrect the dead and bring peoples’ nightmares to life. I won’t give out any more plot details, but I will say that I don’t think the mysteries at work in the story are ever fully solved. Maybe they are and I’m too stupid to have figured them out.

The violence is as grisly as anything in The Books of Blood, and the tone of the book is pitch fucking black. You know that part in 1984 where O’Brien describes the vision of the future as a boot stomping on a human face forever? It’s surely one of the most profoundly bleak statements in all of literature. Well, at one point in The Damnation Game, Barker defines the “definitive human portrait” in a manner equally as bleak and slightly more disgusting. I was going to quote it here, but I think it’s better that you read the book for yourself.

I’ve been told that this is the only straight horror novel Barker has written. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy his later fantasy stuff as much, but I’ll probably give it a go. (I wasn’t super impressed with Cabal a few years ago.) I feel like this novel, The Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart are all thematically and stylistically similar, but the formula and execution is so good that each one should be mandatory reading. Clive Barker is fucking cool.