Oh dear. It seems that Mr Barker has regressed to a 16-year-old doing a GCSE in English language – his new novel Mister B. Gone has all the style and substance of a extended essay written by a angst-ridden teen goth on the back of the bus on the way to school.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Barker’s work, from his fantasy-themed books like Arabrat, Weaveworld or Imagica to his pure horror work like Nightbreed, Books of Blood and Damnation Game. His imagination and grip on the realms of the fantastical are brilliant, but unfortunately it seems that, with this new book, his creative well has dried up.
Mister B. Gone is written in the first person (or first demon, I suppose) by Jakabok Botch, a minor demon who has been trapped between the pages of the novel that you’re reading. This concept is interesting and could have led to a superb horror/history of the Middle Ages right through to present day. Instead, it’s really a thin set of flimsy stories about Jakabok and his partner in crime Quitoon, interspersed with pleading from Mister B to burn the book to put him out of his misery.
This should have been an interesting concept. Jakabok is supposed to be a figure from nightmares, a demon that has stalked the earth for hundreds of years, until he gets his comeuppance. However, Barker has unfortunately created a character that is neither likeable enough or even scary or evil enough for you to like or dislike in any great volume. He is essentially a flimsy character who’s difficult to relate to or empathise with. Barker’s writing style makes Jakabok’s burning disfigurement and explanation of hell at the beginning of the book read like a second volume of Fungus the Bogeyman and Jakabok’s plight holds provides no pity or regret for the reader. Even when the character is trying to persuade the reader to destroy him by confessing to various dastardly deeds, the deeds are glossed over, without any real description or passion. The hundred years’ worth of friendship between the two characters are rushed through in the space of mere paragraphs, and the supposedly whimsical way Jakabok speaks to humans is neither funny enough or mature enough to actually work. The character holds no real power to move the reader. The story skimps on detail and explanation, and even during the buildup to the finale – the war between heaven and hell at the Gutenberg house – there’s not enough… well, anything. Barker has created little more than a minor character who gets swept up in a set of quite tedious events.
Why the book fails is that it doesn’t have enough meat on its bones. It isn’t horrific, fantastical or imaginative to merit being set alongside any of Barker’s other works. It fits into no real category, and has no real knowledge of who its reader is. Is it for kids? Well, if so, it’s a little brutal. And if it’s for adults, then blooming well make it for adults – by adding some depth to the character and putting in more juicy stuff. You are reading a book about a demon from the ninth circle of hell, after all!
At a brief 200 or so pages (with BIG text), this is a couple of hours read at best, and really, even for a bargain price of £9, it’s still a disappointment. Whether this is a distraction to keep hardcore fans happy until his Scarlet Gospels opus finally finishes off fans’ obsession with Hell, Pinhead and the Cenobites (not to mention the ongoing adventures of Harry D’Amour) or whether it’s Barker trying out something new, I don’t know. But whatever it is, personally I would save my pennies.