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Clive Barker – Abarat

November 28, 2008

149. Abarat by Clive Barker (2002)
Books of Abarat, Book 1

Length: 420 pages

Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy

Started: 26 November 2008
Finished: 28 November 2008

Abarat: land of
dreams, danger, and all of the
weirdness you can take.

Before we begin, a snippet of slightly-less-than-sober conversation between my friend Dave and I from a month or two again:

Dave: So I’m reading that Clive Barker book that Z gave me, and it’s pretty good.
Me: What book?
Dave: The Clive Barker one. You saw it in my pile of books and said you’d just mooched it.
Me: What? I don’t have any Clive Barker books.
Dave: I dunno, you said you mooched it.
Me: Dude, I DO NOT read Clive Barker books.
Dave: Dude, YOU SAID you mooched it. It’s… what’s it called… Abarat?
Me: Oh, Abarat, that’s right. By…. [tipsy thinking noises and gesticulations] …whassis name… Clive Barker!
Dave: Um, yes. As I’ve been saying.

Not my finest hour, I’ll admit. For some reason, I’d gotten Clive Barker mixed up with Clive Cussler, and was somewhat indignant that Dave thought I was reading supermarket thrillers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with supermarket thrillers, if that’s your thing. It’s just not mine.) Anyways, on to the review…

Summary: Candy Quackenbush is a fairly normal, if unhappy, teenager who feels trapped in her life in the stiflingly boring Chickentown, Minnesota. One day, after a fight with her teacher, she follows a strange impulse and takes out walking into the grasslands outside of town. When she gets near a ruined (and landlocked) lighthouse, she meets John Mischief and his seven brothers (who are heads sprouting out of his antlers, and are all named John). He convinces her to climb the lighthouse, and so call back the sea – and also to take the mystical Key, an object of great power that is being sought by the evil Christopher Carrion, into her protection. Together, Candy and Mischief are swept away by the sea, towards the islands of the Abarat – a fantastic place that seems as though it may have sprung from Candy’s dreams, where peril lurks around every corner. However, despite the strange lands she encounters and the even stranger people she meets, she feels strangely at home…

Review: Reading this book felt a lot like slipping into a dream. Of course, that’s got both good and bad connotations. Abarat is undeniably fantastically imagined, incredibly creative, and surreally vivid. The lavish painted illustrations on nearly every other page help create the dream-like atmosphere. They’re gorgeously done, and really add to the reading experience, but man alive, the inside of Clive Barker’s head must be a strange, strange place.

Unfortunately, the dream-like quality of this book also extends to the plot and the pacing. One scene doesn’t always connect to the next, and more effort is spent introducing characters and exploring the fantastic world in which they move than in actually telling a story. The end of this book doesn’t actually wrap anything up and so seems like a somewhat arbitrary break – it could have ended a few chapters earlier or a few chapters later, and regardless, you’d still have to read the sequel to get the whole story. That’s not particularly satisfying, especially given that the fractured dream-logic feel of the rest of the book kept me from getting particularly involved in the story or the characters.

Overall, it’s a lot of very pretty, very imaginative, very well-written wrapping surrounding a pretty minimal plot. It was pretty enjoyable as escapist reads go, and it’s definitely worth flipping through if just for the illustrations, but I came out of it wanting a little more cohesiveness to the story; if all I was after was a bunch of bizarre jumbly dream sequences, I’d have taken some Nyquil and had a nap. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I can see it appealing to younger readers (younger than me, I mean – maybe mid-teens?) who like the creepy and the bizarre. For the rest of us, it’s worth reading for the times when you need a little bit of dark escapism, as long as you’re okay with a setting-driven book that’s somewhat light on plot.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Abarat website – check it out for a look at some of Barker’s incredible artwork.

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The storm came up out of the southwest like a fiend, stalking its prey on legs of lightning.


  • p. 210: ““There’s no entry for a giant moth?” Pixler said, gently patting his quiff to be sure it hadn’t lost its shape.” – a lock or curl of hair brought forward over the forehead. (Also “a woman regarded as promiscuous”, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Pixler was patting. Heh.)
  • p. 260: ““I’m Kaspar Wolfswinkel: philosopher, thaumaturgist connoisseur of fine rums.” – a worker of wonders or miracles; magician.
13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2008 6:02 pm

    Talk about a coicidence – someone just recommended this to me at dinner tonight!

  2. November 28, 2008 10:39 pm

    I definitely agree with you about the plot being dream-like and the time I read it I think I was looking for that kind of a scenario regardless of the plot (yeah I know, I crave for a man with seven heads or a place with different islands corresponding to different hours of the day). I’ve read the sequel just right after the first book so maybe the first ending wasn’t quite as problematic for me.

    It’s killing me however that the third and final book has yet to see print :) I do love the paintings immensely. I’d get the third book for that, no matter what :)

  3. November 29, 2008 10:10 am

    Lenore – That is a coincidence – I love when the Bookworld does that. Is it on your wishlist yet?

    Lightheaded – I can see this book being very good for a different mood… I enjoyed it well enough even in the mood I was in, I just got a little tired by the end of all of this incredible description with not much cohesive support from the plot.

    That’s also really annoying about the third book – is there any word as to when it’ll be out?

  4. November 29, 2008 1:05 pm

    Great review. I agree that it is pretty light on plot, if it weren’t for the wonderful illustrations I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much. I also read this during a lazy summer at the cottage so maybe that helped me to get more into the dreamy feel of it.

    And you’re totally right about the younger audience being more into it – my two boys 11 and 14 love it (they’re both huge Barker fans though) lol

  5. November 29, 2008 9:26 pm

    People keep recommending this to me! I like stories with dreamlike sequences, but not at the expense of the plot. I’ll probably borrow this one first before decided to buy it :)

  6. November 30, 2008 9:39 am

    Here’s yet another book I’ve been meaning to get to for years! It sounds like a very fun read, if not exactly life-changing. Though I’m normally more into character-driven than setting-driven stories, having the chance to visit a pretty imaginary world is something I also appreciate.

  7. November 30, 2008 10:39 am

    Joanne – Heh, your boys are actually a little bit younger than I was thinking would like Abarat – but I’m absolutely terrible at guessing appropriate reading ages, maybe because I never fit other people’s predictions either.

    marneko – I think that’s a good idea; it’s worth reading, but I agree that it’s a “borrow before you buy” type of recommendation.

    Nymeth – It’s another one that I think as long as you go into it knowing what’s coming, it’s a good read. Since young adult books, and particularly young adult fantasy, tend to be pretty heavily story-driven, I went into Abarat looking for the story, and then got a little frustrated when I couldn’t always find it.

  8. December 9, 2008 11:06 am

    Thanks for the link (and I’ve linked back) and you’ve done a wonderful job describing the book. Looking back at my own experience with the book, Abarat was entertaining but definitely had some structural issues.

    • December 11, 2008 2:34 pm

      “Structural issues” is exactly the term I was flailing around trying to find. I’m trying to remember… have you read the sequel?

  9. Laurilane permalink
    December 29, 2008 11:36 am

    I’ve been told I live very dream-like. So, when I read this book, my imagination went wild, and I fell in love with the whimsical world he created.
    I read the first book when I was in seventh grade, and luck had it that the second one came out the next year, so I read them pretty close together.
    I love the Abarat series, but I dislike most of his other works.
    He’s very good as a children writer, well, maybe a morbid children story writer.
    Recently I reread the two books and realized the plot isn’t that strong, but I think I like that.
    I have a problem with books that are melodramatic and The Abarat just kind of drifted along, telling its story while allowing you to view its setting.
    I dunno, maybe I’m crazy and I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I really enjoy the books.


  1. November Wrap-Up « Fyrefly’s Book Blog
  2. Fiction: Abarat by Clive Barker, 2002 « Adventures in Reading
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