Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rah! Rah! Rah! For Rawhead!

Clive Barker’s works confuse me. While I read them, his language tends to lose me. He’s clever, and I appreciate his style; it just doesn’t work for me. Also, his works tend to be excessively sexual for me (except for The Thief of Always, which may be one of my all-time favorite YA novels), even though I can appreciate his fascination with the dichotomy of pleasure and pain. The problem isn’t just with his books, though. I even find it hard to focus on his video games (Jericho took me about two years to get through). However, what really confuses is me is that after finishing one of his works, I always find myself enjoying the it as a whole.
“Rawhead Rex” took me an unnecessarily long time to get through. In my copy of The Books of Blood, this tale is about forty pages long. Being the slow reader that I am, I read a page in between two and three minutes. Calculations suggest this tale should have taken me less than two hours to get through. Instead, I finished this around the five-hour mark. This embarrassing reading time has led me to two conclusions. 
The first is that British English is more difficult for me to follow, especially with the creative liberties Barker takes. These liberties are a double-edged sword. I take these liberties and tend to get criticized for the same issues I’m about to state. When I sit to read horror, I want to enjoy the ride, but having to constantly consider how the tracks are steering me opposed to just following a standard course keeps me from focusing on the story--where I want to be focused. On the other side of this sword, after getting through the writing, I tend to appreciate the story even more for the mind-expanding journey of punctuation. Like I said before, I respect Barker’s style, even enjoy it after the fact, but while I’m trying to sink myself into the story, I become frustrated.
The second conclusion I’ve come to is that Barker’s constant flipping of viewpoints kept me rereading pages to clarify perspectives. I can’t fault him for this because I believe I’ve been too conditioned to expect viewpoints segmented in separate sections, not flipped between paragraphs or, worse yet, between sentences. I was always able to pull together whose head I was in, but not until after I had been pulled out of the story.
So, in the end, I did enjoy the tale. As for Rawhead, the monster, I enjoyed him, too. I didn’t care for the sexual symbolism (would it even be considered symbolic at this point), and I wasn’t scared of Rawhead, but as a villain, I found him deviantly interesting. Good villains provide tough challenges in defeating but are not unstoppable. The reason I didn’t find him terrifying, I believe, rests in the lack of mystery. Readers were put directly in his head and exposed to all of his goals and shortcomings; nothing was left to surmise. Also, the sexuality became comical for me. It was just too over the top.
This blog reminds me, I need to finish Undying.


  1. I have to agree with you on this story itself, I don’t think the sexual scenes were done right, nor do I think they added to any of the symbolism really. I definitely saw where Barker was going with it, but I have seen it done better, even by Barker himself. So I don’t know. I also find myself enjoying the story more after talking about it after the fact. I was so caught up with his writing style that I didn’t enjoy my first read through very much; however, the more I think back on it, and the more I get to the meat and potatoes of the story, the more I enjoy it. I think it was the idea or theme of the story that I liked the best.

  2. I probably enjoyed the writing more than the actual story - as far as the actual content, this is the kind of work that makes me avoid the horror genre as a whole. What IS Barker's obsession with bodily functions? And I agree that the sexual imagery was way overdone. I find it interesting that Rawhead seems to work as a monster, but we are too much in his viewpoint for him to be truly terrifying - and yet, without his viewpoint, we would have had no way to understand even half of the premise. Unless Barker chose to make the Declan a much more prominent character than he was...but I'm just as glad he didn't.

  3. I feel like the story was meant not to frighten in the conventional sense, but to make the reader uncomfortable. Getting inside Rawhead's head wasn't supposed to make us fear him, but it was supposed to make us uneasy that we understand him. I feel like Barker's whole purpose was to create this feeling of distress as we read the story, especially with all of the graphic and perverse sexual themes.