It has been way too long since I last read a Clive Barker novel! I think that the last time was in late 2010/early 2011 when I started reading the third “Abarat” novel one evening, only to leave it half-finished because I couldn’t bear the idea of the story ending. I moved on to other books for a couple of years, but that was the last Clive Barker novel I read for quite a while.
Then, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, it took me something like fifty-four books before I finally read another Clive Barker novel. Sure, I’d thought about re-reading “Cabal” a few times but, since I’ve already read it twice, I felt like reading something else instead [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in August 🙂 ]. Then, a week or two before I wrote this review, I found my old copy of Barker’s 1987 dark fantasy novel “Weaveworld”.
This was a book I’d found in a charity shop or a second-hand shop during my late teens/early twenties. I’d probably meant to read it at the time, but I held back because I’d heard that it wasn’t a horror novel (unlike the other Barker novels I’d read). Over time, I forgot about it. It became one book amongst the piles of books. Then I found it again. So, yes, this review has been a long time coming.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Weaveworld”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
The story begins in Liverpool, where a man called Cal Mooney is tending to his elderly father’s pigeons. One of them escapes and Cal gives chase. Soon, it becomes clear that the pigeon has joined a giant flock of birds who are converging on an abandoned house that is being gutted by removal men. The pigeon perches on a windowsill outside the house.
Since Cal can’t open the window from inside, he tries to climb up the wall of the house to get the pigeon. As he gets close, the removal men take a carpet out of the house and inspect it. At that moment, Cal falls. As he descends, the carpet seems to come alive and he glimpses an entire world within it before he hits the ground. Although he is mostly unharmed, he cannot shake the memory of what he saw when he was falling…..
Whilst all of this is going on, two ominously mysterious people called Immacolata and Shadwell have an intriguingly cryptic conversation and, in London, a woman called Suzanna Parrish recieves an urgent letter from her grandmother in Liverpool…
One of the first things that I will say about “Weaveworld” is that it is the quintessential Clive Barker novel. Everything from the beautifully grotesque horror of “The Hellbound Heart”, the themes of “Cabal”, the metafiction of “Mister B. Gone”, the bewitching seduction of “Coldheart Canyon” and the magical wonderment of “Abarat” can be found inside this one novel.
It’s a beautiful, profound, intelligent, libidinous, subversive and awe-inspiringly fantastical saga that is expertly melded with twisted, grotesque horror and gripping suspense. This novel is Clive Barker. No other imagination could have produced it. Yes, it isn’t quite a horror novel – but it isn’t exactly a typical “swords and sorcery” fantasy novel either. It is a Clive Barker novel. And I’d almost forgotten how awesome they are.
You might have noticed that I’ve mentioned forgetting stuff quite a lot in this review. This is because it is one of the novel’s most intriguing themes. Unlike pretty much every story I’ve ever read, this novel focuses on how easy it can be to forget magical, wonderous and astonishing things as the mundane march of everyday life continues. And I absolutely love the way that this timelessly universal theme is handled in this novel (seriously, it’s a pretty central part of the story). But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I should probably start by talking about the story’s genre elements. This novel is a beautifully seamless blend of a fantasy, horror and thriller novel. Even though the novel’s horror elements take a little bit of a back seat most of the time, they include a really interesting blend of gory horror, grotesque horror, body horror, sexual horror, gothic horror, authoritarian horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and paranormal horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, these exquisitely disturbing horror elements certainly help to add some dark drama to the story.
The novel’s fantasy elements are absolutely amazing. If your idea of fantasy is the traditional “swords and sorcery” stuff or more modern urban fantasy, then you’re in for a joyous surprise here 🙂 Although it would take far too long to explain the novel’s complex (but well-explained and well-developed) mythos here, it is both very different and very similar to everything that has come before or since.
This novel is partially inspired by traditional things like fairytales, “Alice In Wonderland” etc.. but it also has a maturity, complexity, imagination and depth to it that far surpasses these things. In other words, this is a truly unique and imaginative dark fantasy story. If you love computer games like “American McGee’s Alice” and “The Longest Journey” or graphic novels like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman“, then you’ll be well and truly at home here 🙂
The novel’s thriller elements are really good too. Despite the more literary narration, the intellectual depth and the breathtakingly beautiful imagined worlds, this is a thriller novel. And a really gripping one too! For example, a lot of the earlier parts of the novel focus on two groups of people trying to find and take control of the carpet before the other one does. In addition to this, there’s also plenty of gripping suspense, thrilling drama, dramatic confrontations, shorter chapters etc.. too. Seriously, despite the “slow” writing style in some parts, this is a much faster-paced novel than you might expect!
As for the characters, they’re absolutely brilliant – with all of the story’s characters having unique personalities and realistic motivations. It would take too long to talk about all of the characters here, but this is the kind of story where you’ll find yourself really caring about what happens to all of the characters. Even the villains.
Another interesting thing about this novel is how much all of the characters develop and change as the story progresses. Not only do the main characters (Cal and Suzanna) emerge from the story as very different people to who they were at the beginning, but even the story’s villains have complex, poignant character arcs too.
For example, Shadwell gradually goes from being a sleazier and more pathetic version of Mr.Dark from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to being a chilling dictator/demagogue to being a vengeful sociopath to eventually being a weak, pitiable and impotent figure.
Likewise, a character called Hobart starts off as a mercilessly satirical portrayal of a 1980s policeman (he’s authoritarian, violent, mean-spirited, racist etc..), before we slowly start to see more tragic elements of his character which eventually make him more of a figure of pity by the end of the story.
Plus, Immacolata goes from being a fairly clear-cut “villain” character at the beginning of the story to a more complex, and even vaguely sympathetic, character as the story progresses. And, even the giant fearsome monster at the end of the story has an utterly beautiful character arc which will probably make you cry.
In terms of the writing, it is absolutely brilliant. This novel’s third-person is written in Barker’s uniquely playful way, which can quickly alternate between awe-inspiringly beautiful formal descriptions, thrillingly fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and gleefully impish informality in the blink of an eye. This novel is beautifully written. It remains grippingly readable and wonderfully atmospheric at all times, whilst also not being afraid to be irreverently funny, fearlessly crude, deeply profound or intelligently mature whenever the situation calls for it.
This novel also has a lot of thematic depth too. I’ve already talked about the theme of forgetting, but there are so many other themes here too. Not only is this a novel about the magic of stories and imagination, but it’s also a brilliantly subversive and satirical novel about how authority corrupts people (or, more accurately, how authority allows evil people to become even more evil). It’s a novel about myth and religion. It’s a novel about gender. It’s a novel about desires. It’s the kind of novel which starts in summer and ends in winter. I could go on for quite a while…
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ridiculously long (722 pages!!!) – but it remains compelling and gripping throughout. It also crams a lot of storytelling into those 722 pages. Seriously, reading this novel is kind of like binge-watching several seasons of a really good TV show. Likewise, although the narration can get rather complex and formal at times, the story is surprisingly fast-paced for such a sophisticated story. Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a quick read.
In terms of how this thirty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Yes, some rather dated words/descriptions appear infrequently, and the whole novel has a rather understated “1980s” atmosphere to it – but, for the most part, this novel is timeless.
Not only does this novel focus on timeless human drama and timeless themes, but the novel’s fantastical elements are also brilliantly timeless too. Not only are they as ageless as a fairytale, but the novel’s moments of wonder and magic are still more impressive than the average CGI-filled modern movie. In addition to this, the novel’s plot is still incredibly gripping to this day and the narration is still very readable and very beautiful.
All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. It is also, as I mentioned earlier, the quintessential Clive Barker novel. If you want a novel that is like a “best of” compilation of what makes Barker such a brilliant, unique and awe-inspiring author, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want intelligent, atmospheric, subversive, unique and imaginative fantasy fiction, then read “Weaveworld”. If you want a quirky, gripping tale, then read “Weaveworld”. Yes, it’s a really long novel, but it is well worth reading nonetheless.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.