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The Damnation Game

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There are things worse than death. There are games so seductively evil, so wondrously vile, no gambler can resist. Amid the shadow-scarred rubble of World War II, Joseph Whitehead dared to challenge the dark champion of life’s ultimate game. Now a millionaire, locked in a terror-shrouded fortress of his own design, Joseph Whitehead has hell to pay. And no soul is safe from this ravaging fear, the resurrected fury, the unspeakable desire of The Damnation Game.

433 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published August 19, 1985

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About the author

Clive Barker

702 books13.3k followers
Clive Barker was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Joan Rubie (née Revill), a painter and school welfare officer, and Leonard Barker, a personnel director for an industrial relations firm. Educated at Dovedale Primary School and Quarry Bank High School, he studied English and Philosophy at Liverpool University and his picture now hangs in the entrance hallway to the Philosophy Department. It was in Liverpool in 1975 that he met his first partner, John Gregson, with whom he lived until 1986. Barker's second long-term relationship, with photographer David Armstrong, ended in 2009.

In 2003, Clive Barker received The Davidson/Valentini Award at the 15th GLAAD Media Awards. This award is presented "to an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for any of those communities". While Barker is critical of organized religion, he has stated that he is a believer in both God and the afterlife, and that the Bible influences his work.

Fans have noticed of late that Barker's voice has become gravelly and coarse. He says in a December 2008 online interview that this is due to polyps in his throat which were so severe that a doctor told him he was taking in ten percent of the air he was supposed to have been getting. He has had two surgeries to remove them and believes his resultant voice is an improvement over how it was prior to the surgeries. He said he did not have cancer and has given up cigars. On August 27, 2010, Barker underwent surgery yet again to remove new polyp growths from his throat. In early February 2012 Barker fell into a coma after a dentist visit led to blood poisoning. Barker remained in a coma for eleven days but eventually came out of it. Fans were notified on his Twitter page about some of the experience and that Barker was recovering after the ordeal, but left with many strange visions.

Barker is one of the leading authors of contemporary horror/fantasy, writing in the horror genre early in his career, mostly in the form of short stories (collected in Books of Blood 1 – 6), and the Faustian novel The Damnation Game (1985). Later he moved towards modern-day fantasy and urban fantasy with horror elements in Weaveworld (1987), The Great and Secret Show (1989), the world-spanning Imajica (1991) and Sacrament (1996), bringing in the deeper, richer concepts of reality, the nature of the mind and dreams, and the power of words and memories.

Barker has a keen interest in movie production, although his films have received mixed receptions. He wrote the screenplays for Underworld (aka Transmutations – 1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), both directed by George Pavlou. Displeased by how his material was handled, he moved to directing with Hellraiser (1987), based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. His early movies, the shorts The Forbidden and Salome, are experimental art movies with surrealist elements, which have been re-released together to moderate critical acclaim. After his film Nightbreed (Cabal), which was widely considered to be a flop, Barker returned to write and direct Lord of Illusions. Barker was an executive producer of the film Gods and Monsters, which received major critical acclaim.

Barker is a prolific visual artist working in a variety of media, often illustrating his own books. His paintings have been seen first on the covers of his official fan club magazine, Dread, published by Fantaco in the early Nineties, as well on the covers of the collections of his plays, Incarnations (1995) and Forms of Heaven (1996), as well as on the second printing of the original UK publications of his Books of Blood series.

A longtime comics fan, Barker achieved his dream of publishing his own superhero books when Marvel Comics launched the Razorline imprint in 1993. Based on detailed premises, titles and lead characters he created specifically for this, the four interrelated titles — set outside the Marvel universe — were Ectokid,

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 739 reviews
October 23, 2019
Στο καταραμένο παιχνίδι ο Clive Barker φοράει κατάσαρκα την φρίκη για να εισέλθει κατάλληλα προετοιμασμένος σε έναν κόσμο που έχει πεθάνει ο Θεός πριν πάρα πολλά χρόνια.

Γόνιμα τα αποκυήματα της φαντασίας του,
γεννούν παράγοντες δημιουργίας και
λόγους έκφρασης, για μια κάθοδο
στα χαμηλότερα βάθη της μεταρσιωμένης κόλασης, δίπλα ακριβώς απο τον εθιστικά
ναρκωμανή παράδεισο.

Ο συγγραφέας χρησιμοποιεί ως χρηστική επιφάνεια την ιστορία που εξυφαίνεται απο τα λόγια του,
όμως την αλήθεια την ψιθυρίζει με λόγια ανείπωτου τρόμου στο αυτί του αναγνώστη
Δεν αποκαλύπτεται σε περιστασιακούς αναγνώστες, παρά μόνο σε μυημένους στο καταθλιπτικό όραμα της φαντασίας.
Σε αυτούς μόνο. εξηγεί το καταραμένο παιχνίδι με απόλυτη αλήθεια και απαράμιλλο θάρρος.Καθώς ξεθάβει και αποκαλύπτει
τα «όλα» και τα «τίποτα» στο φως,
με ψυχρή, βάρβαρη και πορνογραφική διάθεση,
ακριβώς όπως θα χαρακτηρίζαμε ρεαλιστικά την ζωή μας.
Το καταραμένο παιχνίδι είναι έντονο, βίαιο, πρωτότυπο και ανατριχιαστικά διαχρονικό.
Η λαμπρότητα της νίκης ειναι οδυνηρή και διεστραμμένη και η
κατάρα της ήττας ειναι οι απέθαντοι δαίμονες που ξυπνούν και κατοικοεδρεύουν σε πουλημένες ψυχές και καλά πληρωμένες συνειδήσεις.

Στην ουσία πίσω απο κάθε μυθοπλασία φανταστικής δημιουργίας ύπαρχει μια περιπέτεια τρομοκρατίας
που πάντα συνοδεύεται απο ανησυχητικά οράματα, προφητικά, βιωματικά,
ίσως, για κάθε άνθρωπο.

Ο Barker φτιάχνει ένα παιχνίδι καταδίκης.
Δεν θα αναφερθώ σε λεπτομέρειες γεγονότων και ηρώων καθώς γράφονται με απόλυτη ευκρίνεια στο οπισθόφυλλο.
Ένα τέλειο καμουφλάζ για υποσχέσεις δύναμης, πλούτου, δοξας, που εκπληρώνουν επιθυμίες και ζητούν τρομερά τιμήματα με τεράστιους κινδύνους.
Με νυχτόβιες εκταφές αγάπης και σήψης, σε μη αναστρέψιμους, αιματηρούς και αλύτρωτους δρόμους που οδηγούν σε ένα υπέρλαμπρο Πουθενά.

Παιχνίδι καταδίκης, στον πλανήτη των εφιαλτών
και σε τόπους που δεν υπάρχουν κανόνες και κυβερνήτες μόνο στρατολογημένοι, παραπλανημένοι απελευθερωτές.

Στην ουσία πρόκειται για μια επική μάχη ανάμεσα στον Μαμωνά και τον Μολώχ.
Ο Θεός είναι νεκρός, δολοφονημένος
απο τις ιδεολογίες του πουθενά.
Οι άνθρωποι απέκτησαν αυτονομία, βούληση, ελευθερία και παντοδυναμία για να τροποποιούν τον κόσμο, να αλλάζουν την δύναμη της κριτικής, να αρνούνται τις διεξόδους, να αμφισβητούν εικόνες, γεγονότα, πεποιθήσεις, συστήματά και δομές.

Απλώς, διότι έτσι βολεύει η αδράνεια,
έτσι αποφαίνεται η πνευματική ακαμψία,
πως όλα έχουν ξεπεραστεί και αφού δεν γίνεται να αλλάξει κάτι, εκεί έγκειται και το πρόβλημα της οικουμένης.
Απο κει τεκμαίρονται όλα τα δεινά του κόσμου και της κοινωνίας.
Επομένως, αμφισβητείται ο άνθρωπος, μία εννοια του, που ζητά βοήθεια στον καθρέφτη απο τον εαυτό του,
μα όχι τα έργα του, όποια κι αν είναι αυτά.

Και τα έργα του μέσα στο “καταραμένο παιχνίδι» της ζωής δείχνουν πως σκοτώνοντας τον Θεό παραδίδονται δίχως αμφιβολίες στον Μολώχ.

Και ο συγγραφέας μου ψιθυρίζει στο αυτί:
Ο Θεός δεν πέθανε, δεν πεθαίνουν οι θεοί, γίνονται κατ’εικόνα και καθ’ομοίωσιν των ανθρώπων που τους πιστεύουν.
Δολοφονούνται με άλλες προϋποθέσεις.
Και τώρα ο Θεός του κόσμου. έχει ξαναγίνει ο Μολώχ.

Ο Barker επιμένει, και θα συμφωνήσω τελικά μαζί του. Για να κερδίσουμε το παιχνίδι,έστω και με τις κατάρες των αιώνων που κουβαλάει στην πλάτη του,
θα πρέπει να σκοτώσουμε τον Μολώχ που εκπροσωπεί την άδικη, σκληρή και ανελέητη πραγματικότητα θεοποιημένη
και ζητά να τον υπηρετούμε και να τον υπακούμε στο όνομα της διακήρυξης μιας νεκρολογίας, αυτής του θανάτου του Θεού /ανθρώπου.

Καλή ανάγνωση.
Πολλούς ασπασμούς
Profile Image for Eloy Cryptkeeper.
296 reviews196 followers
May 19, 2021
«El diablo no es, en modo alguno, lo peor que hay; preferiría tener tratos con él antes que con muchos seres humanos. Él hace honor a sus compromisos con mucha más prontitud que muchos timadores sobre la faz de la Tierra. Para ser honestos, cuando llega la hora de pagar, aparece al momento, justo a medianoche, recoge su alma y vuelve a su casa en el Infierno como un buen diablo. Solo es un hombre de negocios como es debido.»

Esta primera novela de Barker tiene reminiscencias a la leyenda de Fausto(por citar un ejemplo), pero mucho mas intrincada.
Se trata sobre pactos, juegos de poder, de azar, mentales, de dominación y juegos en donde nada mas y nada menos que las almas están en disputa.
Hay lugar para la nigromancia, el ilusionismo, el control mental.

Tiene un gran poder descriptivo para lo sobrenatural, lo repulsivo, la violencia y lo carnal. Así como también alberga sutilezas.

Por el lado negativo: tiene es un ritmo un poco calcino de a ratos y se siente que le sobran algunas paginas.
También algunos personajes son un poco planos o no terminan de convencer en cuanto a sus decisiones y motivaciones .
Profile Image for Dreadlocksmile.
191 reviews57 followers
July 21, 2009
The Damnation Game bleeds the dark, sensual eroticism and morbid imagination that has become the Barker signature. The novel offers out a feast of emotion to submerge yourself in, from bizarre and horrific scenes of brutal violence to moments of heart-wrenching literally romance. It was Barker's first full-length novel, published for the first time in 1985, after the release and cult success of the first three 'Books of Blood'. This first novel presents a theme which has reappeared in many of his later pieces of work for example 'The Great And Secret Show' and 'Galilee' with two powerful men fighting for a cause, both with different intentions and ultimately destroying themselves as a result. Barker has sown the seeds of a fantastical world within the pages of this book, where the reader is truly gripped by the imagination Clive has unleashed within. It is a masterpiece of a disturbing atmospheric darkness and the storyline's suspense and plot development are outstanding. It's very hard to put this book down and you will honestly find yourselves immersed within the novel within seconds of picking it up.

I strongly recommend this masterpiece of dark fantasy horror to anyone and everyone. Please buy yourself a copy.
Profile Image for Erika.
72 reviews4 followers
October 10, 2009
This is, hands down, the scariest book I have ever read. Ever. I read it for the adrenaline genres week in my Reader's Advisory class. Since I only had a couple of days to read this and another book (716 pages in 2 days!), I stayed up till about 2 am reading this. BAD IDEA!! I started out reading it in the lounge, but moved into my room at some point. And that was when the trouble started. At some point I needed a bathroom break. But I was too scared to open my door and run the 3 feet to the bathroom. I was afraid the bad man from the story would be out there. I'd like to take this moment to point out that I was 27 when I read this.
Profile Image for Daniel.
29 reviews
January 30, 2014
No matter how much graphic violence on dead dogs or how much rotting meat crawling with maggots and oozing with puss is shown, a horror story demands a little more.
Profile Image for David Agranoff.
Author 23 books148 followers
February 9, 2010
There are several reasons I choose to re-read this novel. This debut novel by Clive Barker appeared on the horror scene after he established himself as the next “big thing” After Stephen King. Due in part to an introduction by Ramsey Campbell ,and more importantly the prediction by Stephen King that the future of horror itself was Clive Barker. What a burden this praise put on Barker who is less of a horror writer than an author of Dark Fantasy.

Funny, after that King never really had much nice to say about Barker. I think like many people King thought Barker was a great short story author but not as good at the novels. Lets get something clear I like Barker’s novels, (with a few exceptions like Gaillee which I find unreadable) I like almost everything I have read by the man. There was a time when he was my favorite author.

When Damnation game came out Barker had a mountain climb. The six volumes of the books of blood were ground breaking to say the least. He was already considered by many to be a young master of the macabre. How would this translate into his first full length novel.
When it was released I was already a horror and Barker reader. I was in 8th grade so Lets be clear I didn’t get a lot of the subtext. I read the Damnation Game and honestly I didn’t get it. Oh after begging to get the $20 hardcover for my birthday, I wasn’t about to quit. And yes I thought I liked it.

Recently I decided to re-read it. Not only as an adult who could grasp what happened in it, but as an author myself. Would I still see Barker as the genius I believed he was when I was young? Some have suggested that this is CB’s only novel length horror tale. I disagree as Coldheart Canyon and Sacrament are both prime examples of Barker style horror. They have a Tinge of fantasy but so did the books of blood. Sacrament to me is an underrated masterpiece and the best of Barker's later novels. Coldheart Canyon is Barker's most straight forward Horror tale, better than most give it credit for, but it is still 100 pages to long in this reader's opinion.

So Damnation Game, the structure of the novel holds up well. It has been often noted the opening is brilliant. A thief wondering in the ruins of world war II Poland seeks out a card game with a gambler that is legendary for never losing. Puzzles and games often are gateways to the fantastic in Barker’s universe and here the card game and the gamblers spirit lead on a path to darkness.
After winning the Card game the thief assumes the Card player's luck but even after sixty years the thief cannot escape the devil's due.

The novel has strong characters in Moumalion the last European, Breer the razor eater and of course the Hero ex-con Marty Strauss.
Not as excessively wordy as some of Barker’s novel, but it is a bit long, still I was in it the whole time. The story is dark and disturbing, the characters sympathetic when they should be and fascinating when they are evil.

Is it Barker’s best work? Not sure, it is my favorite. What makes Barker special as a story-teller is that no one else could create these novels. From the first to the last page Barker has a style and skill that cannot be imitated. Many have tried, Tone maybe but Barker's art and imaginary worlds are unique. Consider the art, films, plays and prose of this man. He is gifted with an intense imagination. This may not be his best novel but it’s his darkest and tightest novel. If you haven't read it you have missed a horror classic.
Profile Image for Lena.
1,152 reviews254 followers
November 15, 2022

Oh thank goodness that is over and done with. While I can see shades of Hellraiser in style, it was generally disappointing, not scary, a bit gross, and far far too many dogs died.

Cemetery Dance came out with a slipcased oversized signed limited edition, I have 361/598.

*audible note - Simon Vance did an amazing job as narrator! Any enjoyment I had was from his spooky melodious voice.
Profile Image for Pedro António.
34 reviews6 followers
January 17, 2013
This was a hard one to get through, I wanted something to scare me and instead got something completely different.

The very beginning was actually interesting, though quickly turns into a seemingly disjointed multitude of points of view, which only make sense much later in the novel. This came across as completely unnecessary and only makes it harder to get any traction. It takes a very long time for anything significant to start happening, and then you almost wish it just went back to what it was before. What was somewhat interesting at first, quickly reveals being incredibly shallow and from that point on the book becomes utterly boring til the end.

At about the halfway point The Damnation Game switches gears and spends most of its length repeatedly trying to gross you out (and not very convincingly, actually) in what seems like a checklist of sickening depictions and unnecessarily detailed descriptions. What turned me off the most was the fact that the book doesn't ever try to scare you, it just gets more and more sickening as it goes on. This trope works quite well when it's done once (and well), not when every other scene past the halfway point is like "hey, here's some gross stuff I arbitrarily picked from this list!".

The writing is all over the place, at times it's surprisingly good, but most of the time it just seems to go out of the way to try to be unnecessarily descriptive about irrelevant things. I actually had to pull up a dictionary several times, and I can't say I feel any more literate now that I know what a coprophiliac is.

Overall I don't think there's much for anyone unless you really feel the need to be disgusted - by the events in the story or by the actual book. If it weren't for my obsession with finishing every book I start I probably would've quit before I was halfway done. I've heard lots of good things about Clive Barker, but after reading The Damnation Game I can't say I'm exactly inclined to check any of his other works.
Profile Image for Layton.
136 reviews42 followers
April 30, 2021
4.5 stars.

Let me first say that Clive Barker’s writing and use of language is impeccable. By far one of the best writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I loved this story quite a lot, and I grew connected to the main character in this book more than I have in any book in quite a while.

My main problems with this book lay with the antagonist: while Mammoulian is an intriguing character I still don’t entirely understand his motivations. This bargain or agreement between him and Whitehead wasn’t the average Faustian agreement, so I was kind of confused as to what he wanted or was promised.

There were also many loose ends, certain characters had supernatural abilities that were never fully developed or explained, and the story itself could have been much longer and substantial. This would have brought my rating up to a 5.

I can definitely tell this was Barker’s debut novel, and his transition from the shorter medium to his first full length is apparent, yet The Damnation Game is still worth any horror reader’s time.
Profile Image for Craig Williams.
445 reviews10 followers
March 27, 2011
I was very disappointed by this book. Barker's "The Great and Secret Show" is one of my favorite books of all time, so admittedly, I have a rather high bar that I expect from him. Despite my expectations, this piece of shit book simply will not do. First of all, the pacing was god awful, which is evidenced by my tendency to scream "DO SOMETHING!" by the end of every chapter. When something finally does happen, it's not interesting enough to pay off for the boring lead up. You know when a book spends most of the story in one setting, you're in for some trouble. The book continues plodding through the mercilessly trite and mundane plot, even going so far as to reveal that Mamoulian, the antagonist, is not the Devil, or indeed, even a devil, but merely a human who had mysteriously gained powers via an enigmatic monk. Well whoopity shit. This decision seemed to be Barker's way of misleading the reader from the predictable, yet wholly more interesting, revelation of Mamoulian being some sort of an agent of Satan. Speaking of Mamoulian, I also hated the characters - the protagonist, Marty, depressed the hell out of me, and I couldn't relate to him at all; Whitehead was infuriatingly cryptic, which kept the story going at a crawl; Carys is an annoyingly, mentally unbalanced junkie - yay; and Mamoulian was an innept, and wholly uninteresting, villain. There just isn't much to like with this book. I only gave it 2 stars because I barely managed to slog through it. The next book of Barker's I plan to read is Weaveworld, which I hear is good, and it better be, or Barker will be put in my literary penalty box, which is ten times more horrifying that that nonsense about Mamoulian's haunted bedroom.
Profile Image for Derek Davis.
Author 4 books29 followers
January 13, 2013
Barker, in general, is a heck of a lot better writer than fellow horror icon Stephen King (except in King's short stories). He keeps his narrative together with a smooth action curve (even when there's little action) and restrains himself from having his characters add juvenile comments and sophomoric humor.

His "hero" here, Marty, a semi-parolee, is a nuanced character who learns as he goes, expanding his internal horizons even as the horror slowly mounts. Indeed, all the characters are full, contradictory human beings, with the chemical-industry titan, Whitehead, able to alternate convincingly between unleavened arrogance and small-minded fear. Even Mamoulian, the semi-supernatural villain, has sympathetic qualities.

Barker also has an eye for the truly horrific image – a reanimated dog eating its own hindquarters – and delivers what may be the highest maggot-count in history without it seeming pointless verbal shoveling.

So why not the fifth star? Because, unlike King, Barker maintains an authorial distance from his characters – as though watching a lab experiment unfold – that, at least to my mind, dampens the immediacy of the horror. You might well think otherwise.
Profile Image for Kasia.
398 reviews308 followers
January 29, 2011
The premise of the story is interesting enough and of course inspired by the infamous German tale of Faust; an unsatisfied scholar makes a deal with the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure, all he has to give up is his soul. Who knows of course what happens to our soul but if the devil in the story wants it so bad then I'm pretty sure it has some importance, whether here or there. The Damnation game has it's merits, the mystery and buildup are engrossing and dangerously tantalizing, the release however needs some work and heavy editing, considering that this was the authors first long novel all is forgiven because this is a good read, I'm glad I got to experience it even though it dragged a bit and was too light and relied on too many reader interpretations to rise to the top.

I had the pleasure of reading the newest reprint of this with a new introduction by the author himself which was very nice, whatever critique I give to the book is nothing in comparison to what it takes to write a book, this is his baby, his work of art and I'm happy to say I got to read it even if it wasn't perfect to my taste. It's still more than I could pull out at my first attempt, I liked the mystery, you have an ex-con taken out of jail to be a bodyguard, you get to like him and care for him until you find out what he has gotten himself into, a place where death and bizarre behavior are step in step with his daily activities, a place where death is noting in comparison to what can await at the end of the riddle. The tale itself is very interesting even if the delivery could have provided an extra punch; you have the rich millionaire hidden in a mansion surrounded by state of the art lighting and top breeds of dogs, a man who is afraid of something that comes with the dark. He hides in his sauna with his bottle of vodka to forget his troubles, he relies on Marty Strauss, a gambling addict, to keep him safe in the most important game of his live, a game of life and death and a game of endurance, which opponent can outlive the other. There is incest, cannibalism and all sorts of demented things happening, along with gruesome monstrosities that arise even though they should be dead. The nemesis lets us know that everything is due to chance, fortune belongs to the one who is willing to risk everything on a single throw of the dice. The more there is the stake the easier to throw that dice, so close your eyes and hope for the best, win big or go home.

The three start status is because of the pace and the lack of editing, it felt like I was reading the book forever. I'm usually a speedy reader, I can read a book in a day or stretch it over five days, but this felt like a slow tango, I wish it took me faster though the actual story, but I'm glad I got to experience it, I don't think that anyone should say no to it just because of the rating, what we get out of stories goes beyond star ratings and sales, it's all the good bits that settle down and pull our memory every once in a while, Clive Barker is a serious contender in the horror world of storytelling and he should not be overlooked.

Kasia S.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,032 reviews23 followers
August 1, 2013
Absolutely excellent book. The Damnation Game was my introduction into the mind of Clive Barker and I now realize why he has received such unwavering praise and adoration from readers. I am also inclined to agree with those aforementioned readers. This novel was terrific. It hooked me in from the first few pages and I found myself eagerly anticipating the rest of the story. It contained many twisted images of the macabre that Barker has come to be associated with. But it was somehow more than that. It was poetic and gloomy in a sense. I felt sympathy for Marty and found myself hoping that things would somehow work out for him. The end is satisfying and the plot is engrossing from page one. I would highly recommend this book. Fantastic read.
Profile Image for Cody | CodysBookshelf.
739 reviews229 followers
January 7, 2017
Jeeeeeez, did this book need a better editor. I was completely and totally bored for the first 130 pages; I would rather watch dust collect than read that waste again. Almost half of this novel is a total chore to get through, and that's why I'm giving this thing three stars. What kept me reading was Clive Barker's lovely prose (The Damnation Game is, from a technical standpoint, very well written) and the knowledge that this story's pay off would probably be worth my trudging onward. And I was mostly right.

I think the problem with this book is it feels too small and cramped for Barker's imagination. Prior to this, I read the first four volumes in the Books of Blood series. If the man hadn't written anything else after those, he would almost certainly still be considered a horror legend. Those stories push boundaries: they're abundantly sensual, erotic, horrific. The sheer creativity that is infused in those tales blew me away as I read them. By comparison, The Damnation Game feels tragically ho-hum and predictable. I know Barker's later novels are more expansive and fantastical, and I'm super eager to get to them. I'd rather read a novel in which Barker fully employs the potential of his imagination, instead of trying to scare me (and I must admit this book did chill me a time or two).

In essence, this is a modern retelling of the story of Faust: man sells his soul for success, and horror ensues when the seller comes after his payment. As I said, this novel is very predictable (which is so frustrating — I know Clive Barker is better than this!). There was exactly one twist that shocked me, and it came late in the game — near the end, in fact. I won't spoil it, of course. I appreciate this book pulling the rug out from under me at all.

This is a beautifully written novel that bore the pants off me until, finally, the puzzle pieces fell into place and a clear grip on the major characters could be had. I can't wait to read later Barker novels such as Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show — novels that, from what I've heard and read, find Barker showing off the full extent of his capabilities. I don't regret reading this one, but it left almost no impression on me. Totally average.
Profile Image for RJ - Slayer of Trolls.
807 reviews189 followers
June 10, 2023
Every man is his own Mephistopheles, don’t you think?

Strange to say that something written by Clive Barker is ordinary but this update of the Faustian tale - Barker's first published novel, now more than 30 years old - is notably less "far out" than his early outstanding short fiction, collected in The Books of Blood, and his later work. The larger novel format seems to have flummoxed Barker at least somewhat, and as a result the pace lurches around a bit; it can certainly be argued that the story peaks in the first half of the book and coasts to a anticlimactic conclusion. Barker's elegiac prose makes up a little for the story's minor idiosyncrasies resulting in a book that - while not Barker's finest work - will serve as a good jumping off point for horror readers who have not yet sampled Barker's oeuvre.

Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade in a fresher mold; its terrors are scrutinized and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to appall the eye of the modern damned.

Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews864 followers
January 13, 2012
Clive Barker is a talented storyteller who writes with some of the darkest creativity. This is a good story of a game where some characters get into people's minds and see their thoughts and can control them. There is a man set on revenge and the power of resurrecting the dead. Barker has created characters that perpetrate the most henious acts. He brings to the table a unique writing style where he immerses us into to other dimensions of fear.
Profile Image for Joyce Jellison.
34 reviews4 followers
June 27, 2009
a beautifully written - blood filled/terror ride - this book gave nightmares - Clive Barker is at once restrained and deadly with words - he is excellent at simply writing clean - beautiful language with the talent Hemingway lacked for creating images that are not easily erased.
Profile Image for Joseph.
697 reviews94 followers
October 24, 2019
Clive Barker's first novel; which now that I check some publication dates, it looks like it came out much closer to the start of his career than I'd realized (he basically exploded onto the scene in 1984/1985 with Books of Blood: Volumes 1-6; Damnation Game came out in the UK in 1985, so right at the same time, but didn't get a US release until a few years later). And arguably it was his most ... for lack of a better word, normal horror novel, at least for a good, long time -- after this he started going in a very different direction with things like Imagica and Weaveworld that certainly had horror elements, but were much more fantastical.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: We open in a devastated Warsaw, Poland, near the end of the Second World War. Our unnamed POV character, the thief, is seeking a gambler he has heard of, Mamoulian, who never loses, which sounds an irresistable challenge. And is the sort of thing that never, ever, ever goes wrong, isn't it?

Fade to several decades later. Marty Strauss, currently in prison in the UK, is offered a chance for early, highly supervised release to work in the employ of one Joseph Whitehead, exceedingly rich and somewhat reclusive. And Marty takes the job because, well, he's currently in prison. And this is the sort of thing that never, ever, ever goes wrong, isn't it?

Things mostly get off to a relatively sedate start, as Marty learns his way around Whitehead's estate, and meets various other residents, including Carys, Whitehead's daughter; and at least initially nothing too outré happens, although there's always a simmering undercurrent of dread.

(And we, as readers, are also privy to a parallel set of events where The Last European rescues one Anthony Breer (an altogether unpleasant fellow at the beginning of things; and he only grows more unpleasant, in any number of ways, as the story progresses) from suicide by hanging and impresses him to his service as he maneuvers towards a long-delayed confrontation with Whitehead.)

And because this is a Clive Barker book, by the end things have gotten truly horrific, and we've had more than our share of viscera and excreta and nightmarish imagery on the pages.

Definitely worth checking out if you're a horror fan; and arguably more approachable than some of his later novels.
Profile Image for Tessa.
Author 10 books4 followers
February 13, 2012
I've started this review several times now, and can't quite decide on it.
I have a long standing love hate relationship with Mr Barker, I have learned, through long experience that he is either astounding or awful, and there doesn't appear to be a middle ground, but even when his stories are awful his prose is beautiful, it's worth it just for the language.
So, the damnation game, his first novel, published just after the Books of Blood but before the hellbound heart.
Chronologically that puts it in between a lot of his best work, and this is his most "pure" horror novel. However I can't help but feel he wrote it before the Books of Blood. It has a sort of naivete that is present in some of those stories, a sort of careful navigation of someone not yet comfortable in his craft, something completely missing from the Hellbound heart where he makes very few mis-steps. Perhaps the problem with this book is simply that, that he wanted to be a horror writer but he's a fantasist and hadn't found his niche yet.
The language lacks the lushness, things are done purely for shock value (Bella's reappearance in the white room!) which leaves a sort of funny taste in the mouth.

The story is one of a thief taken out of prison to serve an old man with a plan (if Neil Gaiman didn't have this in mind when he wrote American Gods I'll eat both books) and finds himself in this "Sanctuary" where the old man, Whitehead ; Joe; Papa is trying to get out of a covenant he doesn't believe he made with the Last European Mamoulian. It's the con, that's what this book is about, (again if American Gods does not owe a huge debt to this book I'm a monkey's uncle, the risen dead slowly rotting, the twisting of it, the cypher like main character caught in the machinations of other people, tricked into death etc)

I do like Barker's work, even when his stories bore me his prose excites me, I can hold some of his images to my heart like children (not necessarily the skinning images or the sadomasochistic wtfery) but things like "the sun rose like a stripper" and this book lacked that.
I couldn't help but see parallels with American Gods (which I know came much later but I read first) and well, I didn't really care what happened to the characters. This was no Aaron Boone, or Cal. I saw foetal forms of things and characters he used later and better.
I don't think for an instant that this book came between The books of blood and the hellbound heart, it came earlier, much earlier. I think this was one of those juvenalia all authors write and never intend to do anything about, but with the publisher knocking on his door he shared
the idea is brilliant, but the book itself doesn't really carry it.

Profile Image for Jᴀɴᴀ.
235 reviews20 followers
September 18, 2021
Depressing and gross and long, oh so long. Rambling on for ages with seemingly no point, as if the author wanted to prove he could write but got too wrapped up in his own illusion. As much as I loved the 'Hellbound Heart', this novel of Clive Barker was frankly, a mess.
Profile Image for Siobhan.
4,564 reviews475 followers
July 25, 2015
I have my mother to thank for this read. After annoying her to the point where she went on a book hunting rampage she suddenly decided to lumber me with many of her old books. All I’d asked for was a couple of her old Stephen King books but the next thing I knew she had given me King, Koontz, Herbert, Barker, and all her other suspense masters. Needless to say, the books will be devoured.

For a while there have been a couple of Barker books on my to-read list but this was never one of them. Still, when my mother handed it to me I decided I may as well jump in with what I have to hand. If I was to find out I dislike his style it would save me some money next time I head to a bookstore… except that didn’t happen. After reading this it seems as though I have found another author to eat up my money.

Whilst the story itself was not quite what I had been expecting, once I got into it I came to really love where things were going. Dark and gritty, it turned into something beautifully unexpected. Events seemed to spiral out of control, more and more unexpected turns being taken. To put it simply I loved the way the story played out.

Also the prose! As much as I love King’s work there are many times in which I sit hating his prose. Barker, however, has a combination of wonderful writing style and brilliant imagination.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Thank you mother!
Profile Image for Steve Garriott.
Author 1 book13 followers
May 14, 2011
I'm not much of a horror reader. The closest I've come really is with some of Stephen King's The Stand. But I was intrigued by the whole gambling aspects of the novel, and I've always been interested in Clive Barker's work. One of my all time favorite books is Last Call by Tim Powers (anything by Tim, actually). I thought I'd give it a go. I'd never see anything like this as a movie (too easily affected by visual stuff), but I can distance myself with most books... Heck, I read The Exorcist when I was in high school. I needed a break from Mr. Martin's stuff for a bit (another long-term relationship heading for the rocks?). I think Clive will provide that break... Well, I had to stop reading it. It's not that the book was bad. If anything, it was a little too good. The pure evil of some of these characters is just too much for me. I made it about 45% of the way through and had to stop. As soon as dogs started dying and girlfriends started being skinned alive (and remained alive), I just couldn't go any farther. Live and learn, I guess. I now know why Clive Barker got the reputation he got. Holy cow!
Profile Image for Thomas Flowers.
Author 34 books120 followers
April 20, 2017
I have to say, I am not a fan of the 1990 mass market cover. I thought it would make more sense as the book progressed, of what it is. Sadly, no such luck. As for the story, learning after the fact that this is Clive Barker's first novel, I must say I am impressed. I would not have guessed that. I'd read his Books of Blood before this, as well as Cabal (love BTW), and bits of other books I intend to finish soon. His way with prose and imagination are flawless here. I was disappointed in Marty's (or was it Martin?) character. So much time spent on him, knowing his boxer background and yet it's mostly useless. He's kind of a whimp. The rest of the characters are fantastic. I loved Whitehead's vulnerability and Creys' power yet dependency. For a story built around duality and life over death, or death over life, I feel the conclusion came to a satisfying end.
Profile Image for Natasa.
382 reviews21 followers
June 28, 2014
This was an interesting audio book, I don't know who the narrators were but they were excellent, they performed each character and I loved it as well as the background music. Maybe I would have perceived the book differently had I read it, I don't really know, but it was a very entertaining read. This was my first Clive Barker book and I'm already listening the next one: Cabal and I find this one begins even better! I think I have found a new favorite author to explore in my future reads.
Profile Image for Drew.
206 reviews19 followers
November 19, 2022
4.5 stars


I originally read this book in the early 90s when I was roughly 13. Not a perfect book but Barker made me love him. Unlike many of the horror writers from the 80s, Barker's prose is more elegant and poetic than pulpy. This book is an early example of those Bataillean themes he would go on to explore in the film Hellraiser, so those who come to Barker through that work should find this, his first novel, a great place to start with.
Profile Image for Κεσκίνης Χρήστος.
Author 11 books50 followers
April 17, 2020
Έχοντας πάρα πολύ ψηλά τον Barker, περίμενα περισσότερα. Οι 450+ σελίδες του βιβλίου έχουν πολλά στοιχεία του συγγραφέα που αγάπησα, μα και πολλά σημεία ήταν βαρετά και ανούσια για εμένα. Ίσως αν η ίδια ιδέα ήταν σε ένα μικρότερο σε όγκο βιβλίο (και κατάφερνε να κρατήσει τα καλά σ��μεία) να είχα ενθουσιαστεί. Τώρα το βλέπω αυτά σαν ένα οκ βιβλίο από έναν αγαπημένο συγγραφέα. Άλλωστε τον Barker τον λάτρεψα από τα βιβλία του αίματος. Και μην ξεχνάμε πως αυτό είναι το πρώτο του βιβλίο.
Profile Image for Squire.
351 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2022
This book is a signed limited edition, no. 569/598.

Scary. exciting, and full of the gorgeously evocative prose that would come to define Barker's career, The Damnation Game is a mixed bag. It begins well in the ghettos of WWII Warsaw, but its present-day story comes and goes in fits and spurts, alternating between high energy and near laziness. But Barker knows how to create a denouement and the last 200 pages are top-notch horror.

Scenes of human tenderness are interspersed with episodes of unimaginable and stomach-churning vileness that will leave the reader breathless. The most beautiful scene in the book would not be possible without a preceding violence that seems to have repulsed a lot of readers. But true horror takes no prisoners and plays by no rules.

This is My 8th Barker book. Only one has failed to live up to my expectations. But even Everville had its moments.
Profile Image for Arax Miltiadous.
596 reviews45 followers
November 13, 2018
4.5 όλα δικά του και το μισό που χάνει είναι απλά γιατί νομίζω πως η φλυαρία του αφαίρεσε την απόλυτη λάμψη της δόξας του.
Με τον Barker ξέρεις ότι αυτό που θα διαβάσεις δεν είναι ένα απλό θρίλερ. Οι περιγραφές και οι παραλληλισμοί του γεννάνε κόσμους απίθανους μα και τρομακτικους συνάμα, που συνειδητά τους αφήνεις να σε στοιχειώσουν.
Συμπαθείς φιγούρα ο Γουαιτχεντ, θα τον ήθελα με λίγο πιο πολλές δεξιότητες. Λατρεία ο Μαμούλιαν και οι κολασμενες ψευδαισθήσεις που δημιουργούσε τόσο μα τόσο ζωντανές που τις βλέπεις μπροστά σου. Για τον Στράους και την Καρις δεν θα αναφερθώ καθόλου, μου είμαι ακόμη λίγο αδιασαφήνιστοι.
Ναι , το προτείνω ανεπιφύλακτα.
Τον λατρεύω αυτόν τον συγγραφέα!
Profile Image for Katie Moon.
52 reviews2 followers
December 10, 2022
Really liked this one, it was written beautifully and was an absolute joy to read. After a few books that haven’t really hit the mark, this was welcome.

I thought I’d give this 5 stars because anything Faustian is right up my street. For me it didn’t quite make it (this is 4.5). Maybe it was too clever for me but I never really understood what Mamoulian was, maybe it’s for the reader to work out themselves. I possibly like to be spoon-fed a bit too much 😬.

Excellent though and give this a go if you love intelligent horror.
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