First published back in August of 1989, US author Clive Barker’s novel ‘The Great And Secret Show’ formed the first instalment into the proposed ‘Books Of The Art’ trilogy.
A graphic novel adaptation of the tale was published over 12 separate issues between March of 2006 and May of 2007. The graphic novels were adapted by Chris Ryall with artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez.
It's 1969 and in Omaha, Nebraska postal worker Randolph Jaffe has just learnt of a mysterious part of society known as ‘The Art’. Intrigued, Jaffe goes to New Mexico to unearth more of this secret art where he encounters Kissoon. Kisson speaks of the magical dream sea of the Metacosm known as Quiddity, which in turn incorporates islands known as the Ephemeris. It appears that each and every one of us will visit the dream-sea of Quiddity at three dramatic points within their lives - at birth, at death and at the moment they find true love.
With his newly found knowledge, Jaffe leaves Kissoon and meets up with a scientist named Fletcher who successfully creates a liquid he calls ‘Nuncio’ that will enable a person to travel to the sea of Quiddity. However, realising Jaffe’s intentions, Fletcher turns on Jaffe and destroys his laboratory to prevent him from using the Nuncio for any wrongful purposes. However, during the struggle, both become exposed to the powers of the fluid. The result is a yearlong battle between the two, at which point their spirits arrive in the town of Palomo Grove in Califonia.
The year is now 1971 and four teenage girls are horrifically raped by the two spirits who are hoping that their offspring will continue with their endless battle. One of the girls, Trudi Katz, conceives Fletcher’s child from the rape, which she names Howard Katz. Another of the girls, Joyce McGuire, has twins named Jo-Beth and Tommy Ray, of which Jaffe is the father.
Eighteen years later Howard returns to Palomo Grove following the death of his mother, Trudi Katz. Whilst here is in Palomo Grove Howard meets Jo-Beth and the two fall deeply in love. Meanwhile, Jaffe has persuaded Tommy Ray (the Death-boy) to side with him and begins to amass an army of monstrous beasts known as the Terata from the minds of vulnerable people.
However, Fletcher fails to form his own army to counter Jaffe’s and so kills himself, spreading his essence over the people of Palomo Grove. A powerful essence which in itself raises an army of Hallucigenia. With the Terata set to do battle with the Hallucigenia, the world is put on the brink of annihilation. Quiddity is at risk from corruption and the nightmarish race of Iad Uroboros are ready to enter our realm. Our universe is suddenly a very, very fragile place...
From very early on, Barker begins to weave this elaborately multi-layered tale, developing upon numerous complex threads to the story in order to create an utterly compelling read of the truly fantastic. Furthermore, with a seemingly limitless imagination, Barker brings to the table a story that draws upon an impressive array of dimensional/spiritual levels, to create these utterly inspired new layers to the world in which the characters reside.
Although the novel includes a veritable litany of characters, each of which play their own uniquely important role within the storyline (something Barker does incredibly well), Barker still finds the time to apply a great depth of personality to each and every one of these characters, bringing out an interesting concoction of diverse personalities, traits and individual missions.
What works particularly well with the novel is how it cleverly utilises the reader’s own imagination, whispering suggestive images of the almost indescribable occurrences and realms. This is particularly prominent with the great dream sea of Quiddity, whereupon the reader is prompted and encouraged to formulate their own unique vision of this vast dream sea.
The tale engages so directly with the reader from the outset that it feels like it’s almost your own personal adventure that is being mapped out before you. Furthermore, Barker’s words flow with an air of truly captivating beauty, allowing the reader to simply slip into the unfolding tale almost immediately upon picking up the book.
It has to be said that the novel’s complexities in no way hinder the overall flow or storytelling, or indeed detract anything from the sheer pleasurable enjoyment of the tale. On top of this Barker manages to maintain a remarkably light and fluid approach to the writing, with the dramatic scenarios bursting out in absolute contrast, as the action erupts from the page, all when the storyline dictates such a sudden change in temperament.
With the finale to this first book of ‘The Art’ drawing nearer and nearer, Barker spirals the tale’s dramatic storyline to near-epic proportions, with the monumental threat of utter Armageddon on the very cusp of taking place. Ending with such epic drama and high-octane suspense, the conclusion to the book is executed perfectly by Barker; drawing a clear and satisfying ending to this first instalment.
The last minute walk-on of the supernatural investigator, Harry D’Amour, from Clive Barker’s earlier short story ‘The Last Illusion’ which can be found in his 'Books Of Blood - Volume VI' (1985), sets up an instant cliff-hanger of intrigue; cunningly paving the way for the next book in the series - ‘Everville’ (1994).
All in all, this first instalment in the proposed trilogy is a superb achievement of dark fantasy/horror. The sheer expanse of imagination involved, with such a lovingly woven storyline consisting of so many elaborate subplots, makes this novel one of the most compelling reads you could ever hope to pick up. ‘The Great And Secret Show’ is truly a joy to read, with characters that will remain with you for years to come.
The novel runs for a total of 698 pages.
© DLS Reviews