Definitely an interesting and unique novel, but a complete success?
The 650-page GREAT AND SECRET SHOW is
enlivened by Clive Barkerís smooth, erudite prose, which as always is a
joy to read. His imagination is also as fertile as ever, even though THE
GREAT AND SECRET SHOW contains many overly familiar elements from
Barkerís fiction: young lovers in danger, obsessive madmen and an
alternate universe filled with a plethora marvels and horrors (all of
which are present in THE DAMNATION GAME, WEAVEWORLD, IMAGICA and this
novelís 1994 sequel EVERVILLE).
That seriously wonky title adequately encapsulates this
horror/fantasy epicís charms, and its shortcomings as well. THE GREAT
AND SECRET SHOW is the most monumental of Clive Barkerís early
(pre-1990) novels but also the most cluttered, lacking the leanness of
THE DAMNATION GAME and WEAVEWORLD. Those books may have been expansive,
but they were also concise, something THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW isnít.
It begins in riveting fashion with Jaffe, a
dissatisfied man harboring grandiose ambitions sent to work in the dead
letters office of Omaha, Nebraska, effectively the center of the United
States. There Jaffe, intercepting countless missives from all over the
country, becomes privy to something The Art.
The Art allows its practitioners to bend the
fabric of reality and open the pathway to a magnificent dream-sea called
Quiddity, where every person swims three times in his/her life: at
birth, upon first falling in love and at death. Jaffeís ambitions are
stoked by this knowledge, and he grows determined above all else to
become proficient in The Art.
Jaffeís quest takes him across the country to a place
in Mexico, where he partners with a renegade inventor named Fletcher.
The latter has invented a machine capable of molding reality in a manner
much like The Art. This commences a lengthy struggle between Jaffe and
Fletcher that somehow ends in a small Southern California town. It
provides the setting for much of the remainder of the tale, to which the
above was but a lengthy preamble.
What follows is perverse, grotesque and action packed,
incorporating incest, transmutation, necrophilia, time travel and mass
carnage. There are some great monsters on display, including vicious
shit-creatures, some nasty beasties created from peoplesí base desires,
and a race of vermin-ridden behemoths called the Iad Uboros, who are
saved for the end (serving essentially the same function as the horrific
Scourge who shows up in the final third of WEAVEWORLD).
As for human characters, there are quite a few of them
(so many I had trouble telling them apart), but the only one who really
resonates is Jaffe. Also on hand is an apparent comment on Hollywood
culture, as represented by the So Cal setting and a mid-book party
attended by a bunch of celebrities, but whatever Barker was trying to
say on the subject is drowned out in the tumult that overtakes the
narrative around page 400Öand doesnít let up until the end.