Abarat by Clive Barker

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Abarat by Clive Barker

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Dave Martin
Reviewed by Dave Martin
Summary: An imaginative journey through a young girl's fantastic world which shares more than a passing resemblance to The Wizard of Oz. Highly recommended here at Bookbag Towers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: August 2004
Publisher: Voyager
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0006513700

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Candy Quackenbush has one great fear; that she will never leave her home of Chickentown, Minnesota. It is only when asked by her loathsome teacher to do a project on her dull town that she finds there is more to the place than meets the eye. Following the suicide of the town's original namesake Henry Murkitt, Candy is drawn into a world known as "Abarat", a world filled with wondrous sites and horrific visions. Her first encounter with a genial eight-headed creature known as John Mischief leads her on a adventure in which she is to become an unlikely heroine. Endlessly pursued by agents of evil who wish to unleash the "Requaix" hidden below the sea, how can this fourteen-year old hold the fate of the world in her hands?

Clive Barker's Abarat is one of the strangest, most fantastical pieces of writing I have ever come across. Renowned as a horror writer, I have avoided him largely due to his links with Nightbreed and the Hellraiser series. It was only on a friend's recommendation that I purchased this slice of offbeat fantasy. Following Candy Quackenbash on her adventures is an enriching experience. As a character she is the stereotypical cynical, all knowing teenager, yet her stumblings about in Abarat make her a vulnerable and likeable character. Barker's writing style is refreshingly simple in this novel. Abarat was originally billed as a children's novel and I have to admit this caused me considerable surprise as this belies its macabre content. Imagery in Abarat is vivid and the imaginative settings are breathtaking. Setting his world on a living sea in which twenty-five archipelagos reside is a masterstroke. With each archipelago representing one hour of the day, it allows a fascinating journey across barren landscapes, darkness and light.

Candy's journey is filled with a vast array of odd, humorous and sinister characters including a swimming table on which card players are perched and a sly magician whose powers reside in his several hats perched precariously on his head. These odd characters are well described, but thanks to Barker's simple writing style are not bogged down in elaborate prose. Rather, they are used as tools to propel Candy along her path. The plot to Abarat allows for no lengthy description but instead allows the reader to use their own imagination in drawing pictures of characters and settings. The novel succeeds largely because of this. Too often fantasy novels are over descriptive, giving the reader no leeway to create their own idea of how characters and settings should look. Abarat is a master class in how imaginative yet free storytelling should be done.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the novel is that the evil Candy must face is threefold. Rather than the traditional dark nemesis, Barker provides us with three major threats to consider. In Christopher Carrion we have the traditional threat of the evil madman driven by bad experiences. Secondly, we have the threat of the "Requiax", primeval beings akin to the Greek Titans. If they should surface from the sea, destruction would be total. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is the threat of Rojo Pixler. His attempts to conquer and monopolise the Abarat with his own unique brand of magic mixed with technology is perhaps the biggest threat. His wish to capture Candy and discover a way to enter Chickentown is perhaps the most sinister. It is in this frightening man's similarity to our own world's corporate tycoons we see the most threat.

Barker, in taking the unusual step of providing three possible adversaries, never relents in terms of action and pace. Candy is relentlessly thrown from one ridiculous situation to the next and in this way this novel bears great resemblance to The Wizard of Oz and more recently Stephen King's The Talisman. By providing us with a young hero there are no death defying feats of agility or superhuman displays of strength. What we get instead is a confused yet courageous young girl's account of a mysterious world that she finds strangely familiar.

Although I am ridiculously enthusiastic about this novel it is not flawless. It ends abruptly in an obvious set up for the sequel Abarat 2: Days of Magic, Nights of War. At times, Candy's constant scrapes and escapes verge on the implausible, despite her importance in the world of Abarat. However, the sequel is nicely set up in my version by an Appendix which gives a brief description of each of the twenty-five islands as well as an excerpt that teases and tantalises about what the sequel has in store.

I strongly recommend all fans of the fantasy genre to give this a go. Its simple style makes it easy to read and it allows your imagination the freedom you rarely get from a novel nowadays. In an often over serious genre, this is fantasy writing how it should be done, with verve and style. A novel everyone should enjoy.

Booklists.jpg Abarat by Clive Barker is in the Bookbag's Fantasy Picks.
Buy Abarat by Clive Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Abarat by Clive Barker at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Abarat by Clive Barker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Abarat by Clive Barker at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

I never read horror, and am not that sure about horror-coloured fantasy, but his 'Weaveworld' is GOOD!

lechateau1962 said:

I loved this book.It really takes the imagination of the reader to another world.