Have you ever snatched a book off a shelf, glimpsed the long list of an author's published works and put it back to grab something less intimidating? Clive Barker is an amazing storyteller with so many titles to his name that it can be very daunting to know where to begin. If you would like to taste a little bit of everything that Barker has to offer I highly recommend Cabal.
First published in 1989, Cabal is a modern tale about a young man, Aaron Boone, who endures a personal journey of heartache and self-destruction only to find love and a new purpose in the process. At least that is the literal interpretation of the plot. The beautiful aspect of this story is that the writing is poetic and draws on themes such as sexual politics and the 'mob mentality'. This text is rich with metaphors.
We first meet Aaron Boone during a counselling session with his psychiatrist, Decker. They discuss a string of vicious murders that Boone has no recollection of, but is convinced that he is guilty of these horrendous crimes. Unable to cope with the depression and the pain, Boone throws himself in front of a truck but instead of losing his life he wakes in a hospital and learns of a special place called Midian that might abate his suffering.
The point-of-view jumps between several key characters to heighten tension and to develop a wider sense of the small town USA that Barker has constructed. In doing so there is also a lot of things left unexplained, which amplifies the haunting factor of Midian and its inhabitants known as Nightbreed.
It is difficult to define the genre(s) of this novel as just simply horror and fantasy because those labels do the prose a disservice. The narrative blends these tropes so well that the reader traipses the fantastic and the horrific, usually on the same page or sentence to experience something profound, pleasurable and eloquent.
One good example of this is when Boone's love interest, Lori, visits Midian. She explores the necropolis, discovers an animal terrified and dying in the sunlight, and returns it to a cloaked lady standing in the threshold of a mausoleum. As Lori conducts the exchange: 'The animal was changing before her eyes. In the luxury of slough and spasm it was losing its bestiality, not by re-ordering its anatomy but by liquefying its whole self — through to the bone — until what had been solid was a tumble of matter … It was sobbing that made her open her eyes. Not the woman this time but a child, a girl of four or five, lying naked where the muck of transformation been.' (2008, pp. 91-92).
Events escalate to the point where a lynch mob of armed and scared rednecks rally under the banner of a corrupt sheriff to destroy Midian. The twists and surprises throughout Cabal are satisfying and entertaining. One of the big questions the novel asks is: who are the real monsters?