Monsters have always played a large part in our collective subconscious. They lurk in shadows, under beds, at the ends of dark alleys. Monsters are always with us, in one form or another. Clive Barker realizes this. Barker also realizes that sometimes, the monster we don't know is far more preferable than the ones we do.
Cabal is Barker's ode to the monster -- not as a fearsome predator that only lives to destroy, but as a misunderstood creature that is alternatively loathed and envied. We despise the monster because we wish to be one ourselves.
Boone is a young man who is teetering on the brink of insanity. While he has been getting treatment under the watchful guise of Dr. Decker, he is still unsure if he is well. When Decker proclaims Boone a subconscious serial killer, with eleven confirmed victims under his belt, Boone decides that his only option is to find Midian, the place where the monsters play. What Boone discovers is an underworld of loneliness and despair, as the monsters of the world attempt to live their lives in peace, uninterrupted by the insanity of humankind.
Barker presents the readers with individuals who truly live their lives on the edge, daring life, limb, and soul to satisfy their primal yearnings. In Boone, Barker has created another dissatisfied loner who craves acceptance, believing he cannot function in normal society. Barker understands the human heart, and isn't afraid to admit that not all desires are the same. Just because one person's desires may differ from anther's does not necessarily make that person wrong. It's all a matter of perspective.
Monsters are monsters, first and foremost. Barker is one of the strongest purveyors of the human condition. Cabal contains some truly stomach-turning scenes, which is to Barker's credit. While he sympathizes with the monster, he knows that it must be true to itself in order to be complete. Like humankind, a monster must accept what it is in order to survive. Barker does not shy away from the blood and gore that invariably follow such a creature.
Yet this book strikes me as being more like one of Stephen King's weaker novellas or a movie treatment than a Barker novel (it was made into the movie Nightbreed). Even Barker's shorter works are more suspenseful and interesting; this lacks the pizzazz that his other works show.
Part of what has always made Barker such an interesting writer is his mixing of the profane with the sacred, his ability to juxtapose the horrible with the holy. In his stories, men find redemption as monsters. What is lacking in this novel is the religious aspect that has been present in everything else. There is also no personal dilemma for the main characters. Man discovers he's a killer, runs, becomes a "human monster." That's pretty much it. Regrettably, there isn't much more to the story than that, even though we are forced to confront the one theme running through the work: Anyone can be a monster if they try hard enough.
The evil are rarely punished, and the innocent cannot be allowed to survive within Cabal. Most particularly, sometimes, love can cross the boundary between life and death. Cabal is possibly the closest Barker could ever get to writing a flat-out romance novel. Boone and his girlfriend Lori go through the pits of Hell to be with each other. The love thing really doesn't work with the plot, however. It's nice to see that he's able to observe the intimate human relationship, but I felt that too much time was spent on them being "lovey dovey" instead of "hey honey, can you help me get normal again?" The love thing took over too much of the plot. They basically travel the battlefield of the final confrontation between man and his demons with over-the-top dialogue and some observations about the human heart and how that affects our decisions.
I also found parts of the novel rather preachy. How much dribble can we actually take about "the human condition" and "the human heart" and "human desires" and "human society," etc., etc. There's only so much of one person's opinions/observations that I'm willing to accept. This novel is chock full of Barker's thoughts on society, people and passion. For the most part, I would have rather he kept his opinions to himself.
Despite these complaints, I do recommend the book. It's a short read, and Barker makes the point that in the end, it doesn't matter who the monsters are, what dreams we have, what wishes we have, what lives we live: we are all monsters. How we come to accept it is what makes us human.