Reading Group: Clive Barker’s Mister B. Gone

Posted by Glennis Byron on March 27, 2008 in Blog tagged with


Post by Ada Lovelace

Dear Mister B.,

Is the joke on us – as avid and scrutinizing readers, and as consumers?

Many of us are perplexedly contending with the notion of how such a competent writer of the modern Gothic mode could produce this extremely disappointing book, and thus it leads us to address the following question: is Mister B. Gone a satire of our high expectations of Barker and his work or is it nothing more than some slapdash he whipped up to meet a publishing deadline?

With pages and pages of our demonic narrator Jakabok Botch incessantly telling us to ‘[b]urn this book!’, some of us found that Barker’s narrative technique was not only irritating but it was also very unconvincing. For example, take the incident of Caroline being boiled alive in the cauldron (pg. 67) or Botch bathing in the blood of dead babies (pg. 123). Does the tone have a detrimental effect when conveying the somewhat graphic violence within the story due to its rather bland quality? Or does Botch’s blasé attitude to these acts of violence heighten the sense of horror?

We also discussed Barker’s construction of Hell and the demon itself; Barker’s depiction of Hell vaguely echoes Dante’s Inferno with its Circles of Hell. Botch lives in the Ninth Circle, which is basically a suburb that encompasses wastelands and mountains of trash. However, Botch’s family life resonates somewhat with Domestic Gothic; his relationship with his mother is extremely volatile and his father is abusive. Why is Barker’s archetypal construction and representation of the demon family resonating so closely with the human family? What is Barker doing here? Is this effacing the boundaries between us and the Other and reconstructing who the Other of the text is? After all, doesn’t Botch often moralise and ask us to think about our conduct like with the incident at Joshua’s Field? However, aren’t demons supposed to be inherently evil, anyway?

Botch is certainly an atypical demon compared to the numerous representations found in literature; he’s not seductive and he doesn’t possess great powers like Quitoon – other than his disturbing penchant and skill for kissing, of course. In fact, he sort of reminds me of the demon Pazuzu from The Exorcist because of his constant rambling. However, he is constantly the outsider as both demon and in the guise of a human because he is so terribly burned; surely there must be more to it than being a poor writing ploy to allow him to wander freely in the World Above. Also, what is the significance of the two tails that Botch inherits from this father? Is this just a (really bad) pun as it is also Barker’s tale or is there more to it than that? After all, Barker has claimed in interviews that Botch is the dark side of him…

So, is this an intentionally bad book that is playing on our expectations of Barker? What about this quote from pg. 195: ‘But the point really is: Now that journey is over. There are no more roads to take. No more inventions to see. We have arrived back at the pages where we met … [i]t’s such a tight little circle in the end. And I’m trapped in it. You’re not’. It was suggested that this signifies the failure of creative powers. Is this a comment on the Gothic itself? Is it once again being criticised for its formulaic tendencies? After all, Barker does seem to be implementing many clichéd elements into the novel such as the archbishop being a demon in disguise, portraying priests as sodomites and of course, reinstating that the gap between Heaven and Hell isn’t too far apart.

Another related issue that we touched upon was the power of the spoken word; on pg. 210, Botch says ‘Silenced. Ha! Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe I should stop filling the airwaves with stinking schools of dead fish words, never eaten or understood. Maybe silence is the ultimate form of rebellion’. What is being suggested here about logos and text?

And finally, what is really being suggested by the constant commands to ‘[b]urn this book!’? Judging by the paratext, is this kind of fiction really disposable?

P.S. The editing of this book was appalling and it is certainly not going to be passed off as Botch/Barker’s subversion of text.

By Ada Lovelace

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