The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Genre: Horror
Published: 1986
Publisher: Dark Harvest

“Frank Cotton’s insatiable appetite for the dark pleasures of pain led him to the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box, and from there, to a death only a sick-minded soul could invent. But his brother’s love-crazed wife, Julia, has discovered a way to bring Frank back—though the price will be bloody and terrible…and there will certainly be hell to pay.”

– Back Cover, Hellbound Heart

When I initially picked up this book and saw it was only 164 pages and in large print, I assumed it to be an easy read. But Barker’s language was so illustrious that it made me savor every word he wrote.

Right off the bat, in chapter one, Barker wrote:

A great line. But my favorite is on page 31. Barker wrote about the seasons with such tangible descriptive language that I embraced his perspective with doubtless totality:

“The seasons long for each other, like men and women, in order that they may be cured of their excess.
“Spring, if it lingers more than a week beyond its span, starts to hunger for summer to end the days of perpetual promise. Summer in its turn soon begins to sweat for something to quench its heat, and the mellowest of autumns will tire of gentility at last, and ache for a quick sharp frost to kill its
“Even winter—the hardest seasons, the most implacable—dreams, as February creeps on, of the flame that will presently melt it away. Everything tires with time, and starts to seek some opposition, to save it from itself.
“So August gave way to September, and there were few complaints.” (page 31-32)

While the language was enthralling, graphic and horrifying was the tale itself of Frank Cotton and the Cenobites (sounds like a snappy 40’s quartet). Villains are everything to me, and it’s not often that I read a villain that I fear for the sake of the characters. But after what the Cenobites did to Frank Cotton, I feared for any other living soul that touched Lemarchand’s Box:

And that was just Frank reconfiguring himself. Imagine what he looked like when the Cenobites whisked him off to “Wonderland”.

The Cenobites and their hellish torments were the perfect dose of fear. Never before Lemarchand’s Box existed anything more cursed.

The Cenobites themselves were sadistic antagonists sketched in the mind of a man with one toe dipped in the Eternal Flame. While I felt the movie version of this story (Hellraiser) was hard to watch due to the graphic nature of the Cenobites, the book depicted them to equal brutality, but in moderation. Barker used so few words to describe a visually tangible image:

Okay, I’ll stop flattering Barker’s writing.

The book was beyond entertaining! I was impressed with Barker’s dark imagination. The Cenobites were one of my favorite literary villains. Gnarly and dreadful creatures, tormented and tormentors, summoned by a puzzle box. One of my favorite subtleties of the Cenobites was the ringing of bells at their invocation. Every time I read the word “bells” in this book, instant tension was triggered.

Creatively woven into this dark horror was a love drama that so suited the mood. No spoilers, but Julia has a reason behind her bitterness. And Kirsty’s role in the book made the ending more satisfying. Like Clive Barker said in his interview after Hellraiser, “There is a happy ending…but not for everybody.”

The book was a fantastic read. The twisted love stories, Frank’s selfish obsession to regain life, the dosage of blood and gore. All the masterful writing of Clive Barker, his inventive imagination, and a perfect ending made this book a must-have. Definitely will be reading it over again. If you haven’t picked up anything of Clive Barker’s, please, do so now. Starting with this classic wouldn’t be in bad taste.

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