The Damnation Game

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 311

Marty Strauss--former boxer, compulsive gambler, and unsuccessful thief--is so glad to be a free man again that he does not think twice about accepting the position as Joseph Whitehead’s personal bodyguard. Bothersome details, however, surface on the job. Whitehead’s daughter, Carys, is imprisoned on the estate grounds and fed heroin...

(The entire section contains 475 words.)

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  • Themes
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Marty Strauss--former boxer, compulsive gambler, and unsuccessful thief--is so glad to be a free man again that he does not think twice about accepting the position as Joseph Whitehead’s personal bodyguard. Bothersome details, however, surface on the job. Whitehead’s daughter, Carys, is imprisoned on the estate grounds and fed heroin which her father obtains for her. Whitehead’s closest aide, Bill Toy, hints at the impending ruin of the old man’s financial empire. Whitehead himself seems intent on testing Marty’s mettle, both spiritual and physical.

All becomes clearer when a mysterious intruder named Mamoulian appears on the grounds, possessing powers that Marty cannot fathom. Whitehead tells Marty that he made a pact long ago with Mamoulian, in the ruins of post-Nazi Warsaw. Now Mamoulian has come to collect his due for ensuring Whitehead’s success. Whitehead fears that Mamoulian is Satan incarnate, as the man has the ability to shape the will of others and reanimate the dead. In his desire to save the lovely Carys from the clutches of her father as well as Mamoulian, Marty finds that he must play a game that risks death and damnation for the chance to live free again.

Clive Barker has been hailed by several critics as “the British Stephen King” ever since he appeared on the horror scene scant years ago. Barker, however, often exalts style and language over the driving plot machinery that is King’s trademark. In his earlier books--all compilations of short novellas--Barker showed a tendency to lose the thread of narration in endless description of illusion and fantasy. In THE DAMNATION GAME, however, his first novel, he shows great facility at sustaining book-length story and characters, indulging his penchant for psychedelic imagery only at the climax. Here is one new writer whose follow-up work at least partially fulfills the promise of his splashy debut.

Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 54

The basic technical features in Books of Blood are readily observable in The Damnation Game as well. The major difference, of course, is that the novel's greater length allows Barker to employ the more complex devices of plotting and characterization, including the use of subplots and multiple point of view, common to that form.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 110

The most obvious and consistently applicable literary precedent which lies behind The Damnation Game is, of course, the Faust parable as articulated in various treatments from Marlowe onwards. The complex characterization of Mamoulian, however, also suggests meaningful comparison to a number of mythical, legendary, and literary traditions, including those of the vampire, Tithonus, and the Wandering Jew. Barker's fascination with the figure of the zombie — a recurring element as well in several of the stories which comprise the Books of Blood — is rooted in a long tradition, although his highly graphic treatments of them would seem to owe something to the "Living Dead" films of contemporary director George A. Romero.

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