The Hellbound Heart and thoroughly enjoyed Clive Barker's self-directed film adaption, I began poking around in second hand bookshops for his fabled 'Books of Blood' anthologies. That's why I only have this second collection (volumes 4 - 6) and not the first.
I'll admit that it took me a while to get into his short stories. The first two entries in this book didn't really do anything for me and I was gradually coming to the conclusion that perhaps (other than The Hellbound Heart) Barker wasn't for me. But in a fit of stubbornness, I picked it up again and read the third story and got really hooked.
The great thing about Barker's work is that it is totally unclassifiable. Breaking away from the restrictions of various horror sub-genres, his imagination is seemingly endlessly original. There isn't one story here that I could sum up in a couple of words and that is probably what gave me a hard time getting into the book to begin with. It's impossible to predict what one might get when starting on a Barker story. But if you allow your mind to be opened up enough by a couple of brushes with Barker, it should be ready for the truly bizarre.
Not all of the surreal ambiguity worked for me though and while several of the stories are off-beat enough to be truly original and entertaining, a few of them were so far out that they had me wondering exactly what the hell was going on.
On the other hand, real highlights for me were Revelations - a great tale of murder and ghosts in a run down motel, Down, Satan! - an exploration of a totally mad and demonic mind, The Forbidden - which inspired the movie Candyman (1992) and the wonderfully morbid The Life of Death. Gore is never something to be shied away from by Mr. Barker and stuff like How Spoilers Bleed had me literally squirming with discomfort - always an interesting experience for one who considers himself pretty much desensitised by exposure to too many horror books and movies.