Dallas' Book Report: Cabal By Clive Barker

Cabal (1988)
By Clive Barker

The misunderstood monster is a famous trope in the realm of horror and fantasy fiction, recall Frankenstein in the past, and for a present-day example; Guillermo Del Toro's Shape of Water. Here is a model that is more grounded in reality—Todd Browning's, Freaks. This week's book report is about yet more misunderstood things that go bump-in-the-night. Clive Barker's Cabal is a tight paced horror tale filled with an army of freaks that any outsider can sympathize with.

The plot revolves around Boone, a man with severe mental health issues who is told by his psychiatrist that he is responsible for some rather grisly murders. Confused, lost, and almost committing suicide, Boone seeks safety in the only place he knows a miscreant such as himself can find: Midian. There Boone finds Nightbreed, a tribe of creepy monsters who seek protection in the subterranean sanctuary from the world above—a home for those who are not like the others.

Much like other works by Clive Barker, Cabal is a beautiful tale that any fan of horror fiction can sink their teeth into. Barker has been placed under the subgenre of horror fiction called splatterpunk. This aptly named genre of horror is typified by copious amounts of blood and gore. Usually written in a curt and brash manner—the blood-smeared writing of splatterpunk is like its music punk counterpart. Both of which grew from the grassroots. Splatterpunk is an in-your-face horror fiction; the choke-on-blood-because-it-got-in-your-mouth kind. Barker does have plenty of the horror, and Cabal does bring the blood. Still, the overall structure of Cabal is more darkly poetic than it is stomach-churning. Barker has a flair all his own, a rhythmic and rollicking playfulness to his creepiness that only he can achieve. There is a brutality to Cabal, but Barker's writing has such a vulgar beauty that I found myself sometimes forgetting I was reading a gruesome novel. What was once splatterpunk writing, rough around the raw, jagged edges that are greased with blood, quickly turned into a work of dark-romantic high art.

But what is a scary story without the right creatures? Cabal has plenty of them; Some of the most well-thought-out and imagined ones. More than things to be feared, Cabal makes us sympathize. I know I can. Every person needs a home, a place they can rest their head—even if they are a sun-hating creature of the night. Reading Boone going from gaslighted, schizoid-paranoid, to finding a home among the Nightbreed and fighting alongside them when calamity strikes, was empowering. For anyone who was picked on for being different—the Nightbreed are easy to root for. In fact, the human villains in the story are such irredeemable assholes that readers who might fit more into what is socially acceptable would still root for the Nightbreed. Decker, one of the main antagonists, is one of the vilest villains of any book I have ever read.

With all of the praise I have heaped upon Cabal, you are probably wondering what I might have disliked about the novel. The simple answer—not much. Cabal was fun, gory, well-written, and one of Clive Barker's best. If you like bloody monster stories, then take a journey to Midian—The Nightbreed welcomes you with open arms.


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