Chiliad: A Meditation by Clive Barker (book review).

February 9, 2018 | By | Reply More

Described as a novella, ‘Chiliad’ is a thoughtful if ultimately ephemeral piece of fiction typical of Clive Barker’s style. Combining moments of gruesome brutality with studied reflections of human nature, the story spans a period of time known as a ‘chiliad’, to wit, one thousand years. A brutal killing one thousand years ago is mirrored by another, starkly similar murder, both narrated by an unknown watcher who seems to be able to move freely between the two points in time.

One common theme in Barker’s work is the tension between man’s tendency towards violence on the one hand and his desperate need for spiritual salvation on the other. The role of the Catholic Church stands in for the latter here, the priest character in the medieval narrative playing a key role here, representing man’s ability to leap beyond his physical weaknesses and experience some measure of the divine, albeit at the cost of his life. While not precisely delivering a message of hope, this act does at least provide a partial counterpoint to the apparent personification of man’s brutality that links the two murders.

This may well suggest that the book ends on something of a downer, and that’s perhaps true to a certain degree. Whereas many of Barker’s books have pitched good versus evil in a more traditional way (‘Weaveworld’, for example), the evil here is within humanity rather than an external force, and if there is a champion of good here, it’s at best an abstracted idea lurking within some of the characters, indeed, perhaps within all of us.

There’s also a message here about the difference between revenge and justice. The first killing results in the murder of three travelling companions, one of whom is accused of the murder on the flimsiest of grounds, the other two merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the narrator points out, these men may have been guilty of other crimes, but not the one they’re sent to their deaths for. It takes a thousand years before the something can be done to undo this imbalance and, while the details never become entirely clear, within the dreamlike context of the narrative, the narrator leads the reader to a deeper insight of the human capacity for cruelty and violence.

Perhaps this book is best read as an extended metaphor because it doesn’t really make sense as a straightforward piece of dark fantasy. The time travel aspect is never properly explained, the identity of the narrator remains obscure and the central conceit behind the two murders is ultimately a bit too vague to be entirely convincing. But there is a great deal of beauty here as well and Barker has rarely been as sympathetic about the role of religion in his books as he is here.

Really, the only downside is the price. Thirty bucks for a hardback that’s going to be done and dusted within a couple hours seems ridiculous to this reviewer at least. The quality of the illustrations mitigate this impression a bit, but for a 96-page novella, all but the most hardcore Barker fans are probably going to want to wait for the paperback

Neale Monks

February 2018

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2014. 91 page deluxe hardback. Price: $30.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-595-6)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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