I read Weaveworld by Clive Barker on February 4-9, 2019 as party of a readalong hosted by @the.pagemaster.19 – it was my first read and my third Barker book. This is significant because I am still kind of operating under the assumption that Barker is not for me. I read the Hellbound Heart and know that the books Barker writes in that realm are not for me – the manipulation and sexualization of pain and gore is not my thing. But then I read the Thief of Always and I loved that, so when I read a synopsis of Weaveworld I thought this might be another Barker that would work for me. I was right.
A summary from Amazon:
Here is storytelling on a grand scale — the stuff of which a classic is made. Weaveworld begins with a rug — a wondrous, magnificent rug — into which a world has been woven. It is the world of the Seerkind, a people more ancient than man, who possesses raptures — the power to make magic. In the last century they were hunted down by an unspeakable horror known as the Scourge, and, threatened with annihilation, they worked their strongest raptures to weave themselves and their culture into a rug for safekeeping. Since then, the rug has been guarded by human caretakers.
The last of the caretakers has just died.
Vying for possession of the rug is a spectrum of unforgettable characters: Suzanna, granddaughter of the last caretaker, who feels the pull of the Weaveworld long before she knows the extent of her own powers; Calhoun Mooney, a pigeon-raising clerk who finds the world he’s always dreamed of in a fleeting glimpse of the rug; Immacolata, an exiled Seerkind witch intent on destroying her race even if it means calling back the Scourge; and her sidekick, Shadwell, the Salesman, who will sell the Weaveworld to the highest bidder.
In the course of the novel the rug is unwoven, and we travel deep into the glorious raptures of the Weaveworld before we witness the final, cataclysmic struggle for its possession.
This is indeed an epic adventure, so much so that I had a bit of a hangover when I finished the book. I had to sit for awhile and process how much happened, and the variety of characters and experiences. It’s a very visceral book, but the descriptions don’t go overboard. It is quick and vivid, mirroring the way you can’t quite remember raptures and the Fugue – sharp, bright, glimpses of magic, fear, and possibilities. These things are seen well through our two main perspectives – Suzanna and Cal. Suzanna has something more that connects her to the Fugue, but makes her the person who helps the reader understand the danger and the desperation of the Weave. Cal, being a normal mortal (or “cuckoo”) is the one the reader relates to the most because he reminds us that our memory is a bit of a sieve and it is so easy for things to slip out.
Immacolata and her sisters are a highlight for me because in his fiction, Barker is basically obsessed with sex, sexual violation, and the dark things we desire, and she gets to be more than that. Immacolata has one of the more interesting character arcs in the whole novel – from this place of vengeance, to fear, to regret, and finally to peace (and I say that without spoilers.) I was kind of pleased to see this three beinged representation of women and women’s sexuality turn out to be more. I mean, the Magdalene is fucking terrifying but that’s kind of the point of her – it’s the sexual power, rather than the sexual manipulation we get with Immacolata. She is both a catalyst and a resolution – I so felt for her during her interactions with Shadwell. Shadwell was a very well-drawn near-parody of the worst kind of male identifying person, and made such a wonderful villain to hate. Even when I wanted to find a way to feel sympathy for him, I just could not. He got what he asked for, just not in the ways he expected.
Also, magical jacket! The best thing about Shadwell’s character was that jacket. Again, Barker was making us look at grief, memory, and desire in a different light – and look at it as part of what shapes our souls.
That is the heart of this book – what shapes our souls. The people and places we love, the things we remember that keep what is gone fresh or alive in our minds, the things we will do for the people that matter, and ultimately whether we will protect those who are more vulnerable than we are. Would you protect something because it was different? Would you protect something even if it resented you for your ability to do so? That last question is why I love Suzanna – the reasons she pushes forward with trying to protect the Fugue are so layered and complicated, and incredibly difficult. If I were her, when the story ended, I’d take the longest, hopefully a dreamless, nap.
The last character I want to talk about is Hobart. He speaks to the very worst of our fears about law enforcement, and yet he is the villain I feel sympathy for. He watched a country be decimated by terrorist attacks, he felt that the Law could save them all. Doing what he did then is what shaped, or you could say warped, his soul. He was an addict, and once he lost his source he would do anything to find a new one. He is chasing something he doesn’t understand and warping himself further and further until all that is left is the tiny part of his humanity that knows he has destroyed himself. I loved the metaphors of knights and dragons that went along with his story and found his sections some of the most compelling.
The book definitely drags here and there, and in the current publishing world this would have been easily broken down into a duo or a trilogy to account for some of the lulls. The story was really three giant events and the things in between – easily broken down into smaller pieces.
I saw they are currently trying to adapt Weaveworld into a TV show – it could work, but I think a lot of that depends on the casting.
Weaveworld is a 4 star read for me – it wasn’t perfect, but it had moments that are going to stick with me and it’s making me give Barker more chances. I definitely recommend this for anyone that likes epic stories, the classic adventure, but set in a new world and seen from a very different perspective.