Friday, June 24, 2005

Abarat - not a pop group's pet

posted by Todd T @ 7:06 AM

A small town teenaged girl runs off into the prairie to get a break from her troubles, and finds some unexpected structures in the middle of nowhere that resemble a dilapidated wooden lighthouse and pier. When she climbs the lighthouse she ends up summoning in the sea from another world, and the adventure is on in a magical oceanic realm where each island is permanently set at one particular hour of the day. The Lord of Midnight is plotting, and our plucky lass will figure in somehow.

Clive Barker is a very visual writer, and this novel, aimed unabashedly at younger readers, is chockablock with marvels, centered on uniquely imaginative and strange creatures and settings. It does not possess the gravitas, nor quite the charm, of the best young-adult fantasies, and the while the tight spots our heroine gets into are tense and interesting, sometimes the way out feels more dxm than clever. Nevertheless there is fun in the parade of imagery, and it is a quick read. The prologue is sententious and portentous and I almost stopped there, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Speaking of Barker’s visual bent, he has done countless paintings which illustrate the hardback. There is one every three pages or so. Some are evocative; overall I’d say they are not bad but do not sweep me away. They do not resemble how I imagined things, in most cases. This raises the question of the merits, on balance, of illustrations in a book. Quite a few others that I have discussed this with prefer not to have illos, because they often clash with their own imaginations, and they prefer to let their minds run free. Others find very few illos to please them, and that they detract from the reading experience by their ugliness or banality. I too find that many either add little or clash with my own images, but I can live with it; they are very seldom a minus for me. Occasionally they are a big plus. Where do you stand?

I presume that Barker also designed the font for the title, which is pretty cool. Reads same upside down as right-side up.


At 9:14 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Nor a Genesis album...


I didn't know Barker was doing children's books--I think of him as writing books with titles like Buckets of Blood Vol. XII.

I generally like illustrations if they're well-drawn, not too literal, and feel integral to the project rather than just tacked on. Sounds as if Barker meets the last criterion, at least.

Excellent illustration projects that come to mind: Tom Phillips' Inferno; Mervyn Peake's Treasure Island; Barry Moser's Alice In Wonderland.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

dxm = deus ex machina
Sorry to be obtuse - I copied this out of my reading notes without checking carefully enough to make sure it would be readable for others.

Barker did indeed make his initial mark with the Books of Blood, but has moved on to large-canvas non-traditional fantasies and now kid stuff. To be sure, he has never lost his horror sensibility. In ABARAT, the villain has the lower half of his head enclosed in a transparent tank, filled with a liquid that is inhabited by worm-like entities that represent his evil dreams and swim in and out of his mouth and nose. But even in the BoBs, it was never banal gore. It was inventive and aimed at the psyche rather than the gorge, and much more horrifying than simple butchery or yukkiness. I would go so far as to guess that some of his novels might appeal to you, though he is never a top-notch stylist.

I would say that Barker's paintings for ABARAT meet all three of your criteria.

I am unfamiliar with the illos you mention, but will have to look into them, so to speak.


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