Friday, November 22, 2019

Booknote: The Hellbound Heart

Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart. New York: Harper, 2007 (reissue edition). ISBN: 978-0-06-145288-8.

Genre: fiction
Subgenre: horror
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

A while ago I watched the film Hellraiser, and while I liked some elements of it, I was underwhelmed with the film overall. So I decided that some day down the road I would read the novella it is based on: The Hellbound Heart. Lucky for me, my local public library recently got a reissue edition of the book, so I checked it out. This edition is nothing special in the sense that it does not have any introductions, new notes, or any other supplements that get added to classics years later. In other words, it had just the text so I could read and judge on that basis. Also, the text on this edition is a bit larger, so the total pages is 164. You can read this in one sitting if you wish and have time.

My initial impression on seeing the movie was Barker is a better writer than movie maker (he did direct the film that adapted his novella). Sure enough, that was true. The story offers a lot that the film leaves out, and it has more details and richness to it. Plus, it does it in 164 pages making this a nice, tight narrative that is a good horror tale without a lot of fluff. The book originally came out in 1986, a time when a lot of schlock horror and slasher stories were popular. So yes, Hellbound Heart broke that mold with something innovative. What interest me is that the story is very good and it still works well today.

Barker draw you into the story, and once it starts, he sustains the suspense until the end. The basic plot is well known: Frank Cotton's opening of the puzzle box, opening the way for the Cenobites to take him, and Julia, his lover, who is married to Frank's brother, working to bring Frank back to life. Even if you know the basics, you should read the novella where it all starts. For one, it is well written and literary. Two, there are many rich details in the tale not seen in the film. Three, while Barker develops the Cenobite myth, there is a lot of room for growth. A lot of what we get are hints, indications, ideas, just enough to keep readers intrigued. We should note a lot of the Cenobite mythos, including details like naming the apparent leader "Pinhead," were spun with or after the film. None of them were part of the novella, so a challenge for modern readers already exposed to other media is to read the novella with fresh eyes. That is what I tried to do, and for me, I got a better appreciation of what came later from reading the novella. As I said, it is well written, concise, and has enough detail to draw the reader into its world and make one want more.

The book is a classic of the horror genre, and it is well earned. I'll add that I've read a bit of Barker's other works, and expansive as they can be, they just do not have the same sense of simple yet deep wonder Hellbound Heart has. I like that despite all the spins over time, this original tale holds up well.

Overall, I really liked it. This is definitely a good selection for libraries, specially for horror collections. Whether they select this edition or a different one, this is a must have in a horror collection. I like this particular edition because it is just the text with no fillers, but your mileage may vary.

4 out of 5 stars.

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