Horror: A study on Cliver Barker part 10, Jacqueline Ess.
If I said Clive Barker wrote one of the greatest romances ever, I'd be laughed at; instead, I'll say that Clive Barker wrote a romance that made me appreciate romances as a whole. Jacqueline Ess is my favorite story from Books of Blood so I'll be doing a very in-depth look at this short story.
Summary: Jacqueline Ess tells the story of a woman named Jacqueline who obtains the power to manipulate people's flesh (think of having a physic power where you can fold people's bodies like origami) after a failed suicide attempt. Jacqueline then travels the world in an attempt to find meaning for her life and also in an attempt to understand the nature of her powers. As the story progresses, she meets a man by the name of Oliver Vassi. These two becomes lovers, but separate when Jacqueline disappears one day as she is looking for someone who can teach her about 'power.' Vassi then travels the world in search for Jacqueline, and eventually finds her in Amsterdam. The story ends with the two of them dying, through Jacqueline's power, in sexual embrace.
Themes: I wanted to start this review by taking a look at the themes of Jacqueline Ess. The Central theme of the story is power. The story starts off with Jacqueline feeling powerless, obtaining power but not understanding the nature of it and evolves into a quest of her trying to understand the nature of power. Another theme that appears in the story is the how most things people do in the world go unnoticed, and how the world wears down people.
I want to touch a little bit on this last theme, as it is the theme that made this story stick with me the most. While any young people reading this blog might not understand what I am about to say, the world can wear people down through a lifetime of hardship and disappointment. One of the themes I feel that books aimed at teens, young adults, and new adults doesn't touch on is how people get worn down from life. I'm not saying people become suicidal, but the optimism that we have about the world while we are young does fade. It is a very adult theme, and it is very present during this story. In other words, the characters in this story are not trying to change the world or even survive it; they are trying to find meaning in what they view as a meaningless existence.
I am going to present the opening of Jacqueline Ess, as there are a lot of subtle things at work.
"My God, she thought, this can't be living. Day in, Day out: the boredom, the drudgery, the frustration.
My Christ, she prayed, let me out, set me free, crucify me if you must, but put me out of my misery.
In lieu of his euthanasian benediction, she took a blade from Ben's razor, one dull day in late March, locked herself in the bathroom, and slit her wrist." (Page 228)
Now, of the first three sentences, the third sentence is the hook and opening image; a young woman attempts suicide. The interesting thing about the first two sentences is not revealed unless you read them out loud. The first two sentences have a rhythm and musical effect to them as they repeat a lot of the same sounds. At first, I thought this was just an accident, but the opening lines for Oliver Vassi do the same thing. I had to do something thinking about why Clive Barker would have openings like this for when he introduced his characters, and one of words that repeat themselves in this story is Ecstasy. Now Ecstasy is closely related to music and power, and there are three ways to obtain emotional ecstasy according to some philosophical thought: Worship, sex, and murder. These three acts repeat themselves throughout the story (as I will note) and this has left me to believe that Clive Barker made the first two lines musical on purpose.
Reader's note: It is a good practice, by the way, to get into the habit of reading out loud. A lot of authors use musical and Rhythmic devices in their writing. In Dune, (A famous Sci-fi Novel) the Baron speaks in Iambic pentameter.
As we can see from the opening lines, Jacquline is praying to God for her life to end. This being a form of worship begins the pattern that continues throughout the story.
Ben saves Jacqueline's life, which leads us to this next two beautifully crafted sentences.
"My God, she thought, this can't be suicide. I haven't died." (Page 229)
It is so logical that is surprising. This is very simple prose that shows how surprised Jacqueline by the fact she is not dead. Nowhere does these two sentences say she is surprised and disappointed, but they scream these emotions at us all the same.
The story continues with Jacqueline in a therapy session. It is here that Jacqueline's powers start to manifest. As the session continues, the Dr. makes the claim that he understands what it is like to be a woman. This angers Jacqueline which leads to this sentence here.
"You're not a woman, she thought she thought." (Page 230)
At first, I thought this was a typo, but it is not. The Dr. ask if she said something, and Jacqueline is unsure. The 'She thought she thought.' is a hesitation device meant to create doubt. There are a few things I feel make up horror: Gore (blood and extream violence), Dread (Mystery, eerie scenes, and fear), and Unreliable narrative (Hesitation, doubt, uncertainty). Jacqueline is unsure if she thought it, or said it.
The Dr. eventually annoys Jacqueline to the point where thinks about turning him into a woman so he'll understand her better, and to her horror, her powers manifest and mutilated his body as her mind turns him into a woman in a grotesque fashion (killing him as it does.)
She then, sometime later (the cops question her, but dismiss her as a suspect), realizes the full extent of her new powers and kills her husband after she learns he is leaving her for another woman. Feeling alive (Murder), Jacqueline makes her way out into the world (This Ends Act I of the story).
Part two begins with Oliver's POV.
"To you who dream of sweet, strong women, I leave this story." (Page 234)
Again this sentence starts off with a rhythm to it. Also, an interesting note on the narration. Jacqueline's POV is told through close-3rd person. Oliver is told through 1st person POV. The reason is that Oliver is writing down his story for someone else to read.
Oliver and Jacqueline begin an affair (the reason she first picked him is never stated.) One night, Oliver watches Jacqueline sleep and to his horror, he sees her power's manifest.
"Her lips bloomed from her bone, boiling up into a slavering tower of skin: her hair swirled around her head as though she were lying in water; the substance of her cheeks formed furrows and ridges like the ritual scars on a warrior; inflamed and throbbing patterns of tissue, swelling up and changing again even as a pattern formed." (Page 237)
We learn that Jacqueline has the power to manipulate her own body. She can make herself look younger, she skin softer and tighter, and she has the power to make her lover's body feel more sensual sensations. Realizing what Jacqueline is capable of, Oliver comes to this conclusion,
"Instead of fearing her, I became more devoted to this woman who tolerated my possession of her body." (Page 238)
Oliver worships her.
Jacqueline eventually leaves Oliver as she is looking for a man who can teach her about the nature of Power.
Jacqueline comes to find a man named Titus, a brilliant businessman, who she begins an affair with in exchange for learning about power. Titus teaches her how to get what you want out of people, through sales tactics, and Jacqueline comes to understand the nature with dealing with people. Jacqueline and Titus's relationship comes to an end when his assistant, a man named Lyndon, blackmails Titus over the affair. Jacqueline comes to realize how weak of a man Titus is, leaves him, then searches out and kills Lyndon. Jacqueline finally comes to understand the nature of power however she comes miss Vassi (this is the midpoint of the story.)
I'd like to note this passage as it really spells out the theme of people going unnoticed in the world.
"She saw no reports of the death in any of the papers, and nothing on the new bulletins. Lyndon has apparently died as he had lived, hidden from public view (Page 247)
The next part of the story begins with Vassi searching for Jacqueline. He sees her on the street but becomes unsure if she wants him in her life or not and chooses not to talk to her.
Titus eventually confronts Jacqueline and make a bizarre request, he wants her to kill him through a sexual encounter as a way to praise her (worship, sex, and murder.) Jacqueline refuses, as she has grown to detest him. Titus attacks her as a way to provoke her, but he miscalculates her response. Instead of killing him, she uses her powers to contort his body into the form on a dog. One of his bodyguards freaked out by monstrous creature Titus has become, shoots and kills him. Jacqueline, instead of killing the two bodyguards, chooses to sit down and talk to the two men.
The final part of the story tells of how Vassi finds Jacqueline. He learns about the murder of Titus and travels to the crime scene (this occurs a year or so later.) There he finds ono of the bodyguards has gone mad and pants murals of Jacqueline on the walls of the Crime Scene (A form of worship.) Vassi learns that the other guard, the one who killed Titus, committed suicide as his life become meaningless without the chance of seeing Jacqueline again. Vassi tells the guard that Jacqueline will not return to kill him; the guard mourns not out of relief, but out of the loss that he will never again see Jacqueline. (This plays into the whole wore down by the world theme.)
Vassi tracks Jacqueline down in Amsterdam where she has become a prostitute. Jacqueline and Vassi, both so worn down by the world, engage in one last sexual encounter which results in the two of them dying. (Murder, sex, and worship).
I'd like to note that Vassi gets the one thing that Titus wanted. Vassi and Titus are meant to be two men on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of characteristics. I'd also like to note that at the start of the story, Jacqueline attempts suicide as she feels her life is meaningless; at the end of the story, Jacqueline commits suicide after finding meaning in her life.
The final paragraph really brings home the themes of the hard world, and people going unnoticed.
"Outside, the hard world mourned on, the chatter of buyers and sellers continuing through the night. Eventually indifference and fatigue claimed even the eagerest merchant. Inside and out there was a healing silence: an end to losses and gains." (Page 262).
This concludes my review of Jacqueline Ess. If you have any questions or thoughts please leave a comment.
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