Originally published back in May of 1997 within Douglas E Winter’s anthology ‘Millennium’ (1997) in the UK and ‘Revelations’ (1997) in the US, Clive Barker’s two-part novella ‘Chiliad’ was later released as a standalone publication by Subterranean Press in January of 2014.

This latter publication of the two-part story contains new cover artwork by artist Jon Foster along with two additional full-page colour illustrations.

DLS Synopsis:
On the bank by the riverside he finds it’s a fine place to sit and mediate. A place where he can watch the river flowing backward and forward through time.  A place where he can observe man and his actions.  The momentum of violence and its repercussive consequences.

As the ploughman works in the field within sight of where he sits, digging up corpses that walk away from the graves they have just been born from; the despairing observer watches as the first painful act is played out before him.  It’s a day short of one-thousand-years since the year zero and in the nearby village of Tress the villagers have gathered at the church to give thanks to their Redeemer.

However, Martin (better known as ‘Shank’) is not one of them.  His partner, the equally ugly Agnes, had gone out in the early light of dawn, but so far had not returned.  Shank had heard of men, who at times could take on the form of the beasts, and would come down from the hills to have their fill of the villagers flesh.  Now he worried for the safety of the only woman who could ever love a man like him.  And alas, as he had feared, his worst nightmares would be realised.   Upon leaving the gloomy shack they called their home, Shank finds his beloved Agnes face-down in the mud.  Her body cut-up and left for dead.

And here Shank promises himself that whatever Agnes had suffered, the man who did this to her would suffer much worse.  So much worse.

A chiliad later, on the brink of the next millennium, forty-one-year-old claims adjuster, Devlin Coombs, has just learnt of his wife’s death.  On the 26th December 1999, his wife, Mary Elizabeth, was murdered.  And with that simple act of cruelty, so Devlin’s life too comes to a sorrowful void.  He feels he must know the truth of how his wife met death.  A tragic set of circumstances that were no doubt down to pure chance.  But he has to know how.  And why.  And in that, perhaps he could seek some form of retribution.

And all through this the man on the riverbank watches on.  Observing.  Contemplating.  And ultimately, as the thousand years between the two events melts away, he can draw some meaning from the two interwoven stories of cruelty, loss, vengeance, redemption and finally the hopeful possibility of release…


DLS Review:
Written by way of a confessional following a long period of depression, Barker’s ‘Chiliad’ is a strangely abstract piece of poetically crafted storytelling.  Indeed, in its metafictional state, the work forms an evocative (and uncomfortably voyeuristic) looking-glass into the despairing soul of a man who is in a meditative state of constantly-over-lapping sorrow.

Our narrator takes us to a vantage point where we, as observers, are able to witness two different stories, which are linked together over the span of a thousand years (a ‘chiliad’) by their joint acts of repercussive violence.

The first story, under the subtitle ‘Men And Sin’ is one that feels closely akin to Barker’s early play ‘Crazyface’ from ‘Forms Of Heaven’ (1996).  Indeed, set at 1000 A.D., the story is one of simple brutality and snow-balling repercussions.  A theme that ties together the second story under the subtitle ‘A Moment At The River’s Heart’ which is set a whole thousand years later, on the brink of the next millennium.

And it’s the connecting themes, the underlying questions and soul-searching musing, which bring the two parts together under the watchful eyes of our meditating narrator.  And amongst all of the nihilistic wordsplay and near-abstract prose, a deeply emotional and hauntingly evocative picture begins to form.  There’s a connecting force at play.  One that is true to our own lives – but far less exposed within our day-to-day trivialities.  And Barker has bravely brought a mirror out to these bitter moments of mankind.  Through a story of two halves, he has torn open the violent heart within our race, and let us follow the course of our actions across the continuous plane of melancholy and self-destruction.

As a whole ‘Chiliad’ is certainly a compact, densely-written examination (or exploration) of man’s culpability for escalating harm.  There’s so much in the claustrophobic intensity of the two inter-twined stories to get you questioning your own deeply-carved blueprint.  It resonates a sorrowful message.  And within its troublesome twists, the stories send us, the voyeurs of these events, to a place where we’d rather not be.  A squirming seat of collective culpability.  A saddening place to be.

This is not a read for anyone who’s in dire need of something to cheer them up.  It’s as intimate as it is mournful.  And it leaves you looking inward on your own flawed instincts.

The novella runs for a total of 91 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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