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"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
- Anna Quindlen

Review: Galilee, by Clive Barker

Galilee - Clive Barker

When Clive Barker is at his best, he crafts weird and wonderful worlds populated with creepy, compelling creatures*. But he is not at his best in this book.


I was pulled into Barker's orbit back in high school, mainly because he was one of my sister's favorite authors (she was known to name pets after characters from Imajica).  And I genuinely loved his children's book, The Thief of Always, which I dearly hope would stand up to my 30-year-old cynicism (I haven't read it in years).


But he's always been hit-or-miss for me.  As a teen, the explicit carnality in Everville scandalized me, and though I've become less of a cringing prude in the intervening years, his books still strike me as excessively prurient.  I loved Weaveworld in college, though I can't remember anything about it and won't vouch for it now.  I never finished Abarat or The Great and Secret Show, and when I finally conquered the 1,000-page behemoth Imajica 6 or 7 years ago, I enjoyed but didn't love it.


I think my problem with his books is that, while they are incredibly imaginative and fantastic at building atmosphere, their bloated plots never seem to resolve into anything satisfying, and most of what happens doesn't make any damn sense.  They're like that sinister psychedelic dream you had once after drinking absinthe.  Images from it may stay with you the rest of your life, but it would be a bad idea to write it down and call it literature.


But I was intrigued by Galilee, because it seemed to break the mold.  The plot synopsis described it as a multigenerational family epic concerning two feuding clans - the rich, prominent Gearys (think: the Kennedys) and the mystical, semi-divine Barbarossas (think: a Southern Gothic version of the Olympian pantheon).  There were no alternate realms, no ghastly monsters, an apparently limited supply of nonsensical weirdness.  Reviews were split between those who loved it because it's not like Barker's other books, and those who hated it for the same reason.  Worth a shot, I figured.


But what I didn't like about it was that it was too much like Barker's other books (what I wouldn't give for a plot that made any fucking sense).  The story is told from the point of view of Maddox, the black sheep of the Barbarossa clan because of his mother's race (human).  From his outsider point of view, he recounts the bizarre behavior of his half-siblings (one sex-crazed, one food-crazed, the other just crazed in general) and his divine stepmother (who manages to be both menacing and completely boring).  Mostly, though, the book concerns his other half-brother, Galilee, and his meticulously-described *ahem* relations with multiple generations of the Geary women.  Especially with Rachel, the newest wife, with whom he has decided he is desperately in love, after about 3 seconds of knowing her.  And thus the fussin' and the feudin' begins.


But it's just so boring.  I could not give a single fuck about any of these characters, who were all either completely self-obsessed and loathsome (most of them), or just stupid and pathetic (Rachel).


Despite its reputation as one of the shorter Barker novels, this audiobook clocked in at about 24 hours total, and took me about 4 months of off-and-on listening to get through.  It's the longest audiobook I've yet listened to, by about eight hours.  And the only thing that kept me listening was the narrator, who was really very good.  It's so rare that I find audiobook narrators I like that I'll keep listening to any kind of crap when I find a good one.


But there were things I liked about the book itself.  Though I didn't like the callow, milksoppy Rachel, the sections on her life were the highlight of the book.  Her courtship with her completely batshit future husband.  All the endearingly nutty Geary women.  Actually, if the book had just been a Geary family history, it might have earned three stars from me.  It's the Barbarossas I really couldn't stand.  Their dysfunction wasn't compelling at all, just obnoxious.  Oh, but I'm supposed to care because they're virtually immortal and have ~magical powers~ (one of them being unimaginable sexual prowess, natch)?  Meh, sorry.  I'd trade in all these otherworldly eccentrics and their magical gonads for a plot that went somewhere.


So all in all, it ended up being a big, bad, boring book.  A rotten, regrettable read.  A sluggish, stupid, substandard story.**


(2014 #20)


* Wow, I apologize for that.  No more alliteration, I promise.


** I lied.