Written in 1998 by Clive Barker, the story follows Edmund Maddox Barbarossa, on a quest to write down the tale of his family in the very book you're reading. And boy, is it a complicated process.
First, the Barbarossa don't exactly belong to the human race. Cesaria and Nicodemus, the parents, are gods with an equally godlike temper. The children are Zabrina, an obese woman drowning her sorrow in tons of food, Luman, who spent half his life in asylums, Marietta, an energetic lesbian, Edmund Maddox himself, a wheelchair-ridden cynic who didn't leave home for most of his life and who's about 140 years old, and finally, Galilee, who is a subject of contention in the family, and one of the reasons why the book was written.
To make matters more complicated, their history is closely related to the Geary family, an immensely rich and badly dysfunctional human dynasty, whose smooth image only serves to hide tons of shady dealings and deviance. They have been in place since the war of Secession, enough time to have lots of skeletons in the closet.
On top of this, Maddox provides us with an insight into L'Enfant, the gigantic house lost in the swamp where all the Barbarossa live, and what it's like to live next to godlike beings on a daily basis. Suffice to say, it makes doesn't make his task any easier.
Expect lots of dreams becoming nightmares, everyday torment driving people to insanity and an underlying sadness, but also broken hopes being rebuilt and characters facing their fears, accepting past mistakes and growing as people. Welcome to Clive Barker.
This book provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: You better believe it.
- Cadmus Geary treats his sons and grandsons as assets in his business; he doesn't hide the fact that should they push him too far, he'll get rid of them one way or another. Garrison doesn't take it well.
- Cesaria is of unstable mood and her tantrums have the nasty tendency to level cities and kill lots of innocent people. The children are rightfully afraid of her. But they hardly ever flee or say no to her, valuing their lives too much for it.
- Nicodemus, an absolute sex maniac who cheats on Cesaria with about half the women on the globe (although she does the same in return), doesn't shy away from showing off his genitals to his 6-year-old daughter, and cares more about his horses than his children.
- Aerith and Bob: Michael, Garrison, Loretta and Rachel share the spotlight with Nicodemus, Galilee and Cesaria.
- And I Must Scream: The dolls that Mater Motley's dress are made out of are alive.
- Anyone Can Die: This being Clive Barker...
- Apocalypse How: The purpose of the book is to keep track of the weird family history and trace its downfall. It ends without answering that last part, if it ever happens.
- Ax-Crazy: Played straight, subverted, averted, and everything in between. Although the Barbarossa get most of it, the Gearys being more of the drunk-with-power type.
- Luman is considered this at first, not helped by the narrator who doesn't trust him. The fact that he lives with lots of weapons, soaked in his own piss, and that his childhood was spent in every nuthouse in the country, mean there's some reason to. It gets slowly subverted though, as Luman shows more remorse and interest in his brothers, sisters and bastards. Late in the story he shows some intellectual acumen and helps Maddox to accept his past faults.
- Cesaria gets the worst of it. Sure, she can show some genuine compassion and love... but no one who even remotely knows her forgets that she could kill anyone at any moment should she get angry. And she gets angry fast.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Goes back and forth, Zabrina and Marietta show signs of this, before reverting to a nicer persona. The Geary women are no better, going from spitting poison to professing love. In the end, only Loretta seems to play the trope in full force.
- The Chosen One: Discussed on several levels of interpretation. Maddox sees himself as this, with the book as his sacred mission. Even if, or rather, because he's only an observer and not an actor in the story, he tends to think himself as being the only one suited for it. He eventually drops his pretense at objectiveness in the story, and slowly grows out of his passive stance, becoming more human and empathetic in the process. Galilee was also this in the eyes of Cesaria, before being cast out by her and forced into exile.
- Cool Ship: The Samarkand, sailed by Galilee across every sea of the globe.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Geary dynasty in a nutshell. Although the corruption varies depending on the generation, it should be noted that none of them is above it.
- Corrupt the Cutie: Rachel gets more and more into the luxurious lifestyle provided by her husband Michael. But unlike Margie, who got dependent on it and lost the will to leave, Rachel is much more willing to get out of it once she gets fed up with it.
- Creepy Child: All of them where the Barbarossa are concerned. Maddox didn't leave the house for about a century. Luman is so far gone he spent years in asylums and now lives next to the house, secluded for everyone's safety. Galilee is plagued by guilt to the point of avoiding solid land as much as possible, Marietta is a nymphomaniac who forgets that the house makes her lovers mad, and Zabrina is an overweight alchemist with a serious eating disorder. Downplayed later, as Maddox starts to accept them for what they are, they get described with more love and acquire a lot more depth than they appear to have at first.
- Dark Is Not Evil
- Deadpan Snarker: They all get their moments, but Rachel is the most fond of it, especially once she gets sick of her marriage.
- Disney Villain Death: Averted: if it happens, expect it to be bloody, brutal and definitive.
- Dysfunction Junction: That's the main trait of both families. Maddox is an Ineffectual Loner, Rachel is disappointed with her high life and... Actually, filling this example out would mean retelling half the book.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite the grim and underlying darkness following every chapter and the punishment some characters have to go through, it's hinted that Cesaria will finally forgive Galilee, and that he and Rachel finally found in each other what they needed. Maddox accepts that the book cannot be perfect and gets tricked out of the house for the first time in a century, which he accepts happily and sets off on his own adventure.
- Eldritch Abomination: At moments, it seems that Cesaria is this, with that long-lived, reality-breaking persona of hers. It goes back and forth between utterly alien motives (according to, well, everyone in the house) and very human problems. Subverted after a while, when the human side definitely takes the limelight.
- Eldritch Location: Just like Cesaria plays with the eldritch abomination trope, L'Enfant plays with this one. Fitting, considering it was built for Cesaria and reflects her quite well. On one side, it's a big family mansion with plenty of spacious rooms. On the other side, it's falling apart and includes a few places lost between Illusion and alien geometries. Maddox visiting the latter gives him the ability to write about events he never witnessed.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Played for fun, up to the point where it might be argued that there's a supernatural element to it. Marietta's ability to turn heterosexual women into full-on lesbians comes up several times.
- Fish out of Water:
- Rachel, obviously, going from piss-poor conditions to one of the richest women in the world, it naturally comes with a lot of hidden problems.
- Galilee, almost literally: he only feels home on the sea, and longs for it the moment he sets foot on land. Although it gets debatable later.
- Amusingly, Maddox himself. He doesn't trust the house, Cesaria, or any of his siblings for that matter, but admits that going outside would be that trope exactly for him.
- From Bad to Worse: In spades. Cesaria gets the gold medal: Starting with her destructive romance with Nicodemus, she goes from being a revered deity worldwide to a bedridden ghost whose death is being bet on. Every single fight she had with her husband drove her a little bit further down the lane, and there were a lot of fights, going on for centuries. On a more general note, this is the fate of both the Barbarossas and the Gearys, the difference being that while the Barbarossas are already near the end by the start of the book, the Gearys start falling apart during it.
- Great Big Book of Everything: The one you are reading. It only talks about the Barbarossa history, but Maddox promises that it will contain absolutely everything, from the useless sex scenes to his day-to-day thinking and every possible detail and aspect that should be contained within it. He admits at the end that it was a promise impossible to fulfill, but doesn't take it badly at all, as it only means there's still room for more.
- Half-Human Hybrids: Maddox, born from Nicodemus and one of the many women he slept with and Luman's bastards.
- It's Personal: In spades. Maddox soon drops his pretense of objectivity about his book, letting his feelings and subjective observations litter the story with sometimes no link to it at all. He even goes further when he realises that this makes the story even more interesting for the reader.
- Lighthouse Point: The colonial house on a remote island serves as one for Galilee who's bound by a promise to go there every time a Geary woman needs comfort.
- Love Makes You Evil: This being Clive Barker, love brings out both the best and the worst of its victims. On the short end there's Cesaria and Nicodemus, madly in love and yet so irritable that it brings them more harm than anything else, and Michael.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Where the boring task of writing down letters on paper becomes a self-introspective, self-revelating and emotionally violent task.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: In a book full of wackos it had to happen. Yet, of all people, it's Cadmus Geary who is the most prominent example here.
- Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Rachel's hometown. With some irony, she longs for it after getting fed up with her new life.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Cesaria engaged into it on a whim during the time she was revered.
- The Omniscient: Maddox gets such powers thanks to Cesaria, only way for him to write the complicated story involving several timeframes and multiple point of views.
- One-Word Title: No sweat. It's because Galilee himself made Maddox promise to put his name as the title.
- Place Beyond Time: Subverted, L'Enfant was built to last for eons, no matter what. But the one that made the promise was Thomas Jefferson, a human with human abilities. As such, despite the oddities, it very obviously suffers the same fate as any abandoned or half-abandoned house.
- Reluctant Psycho: Doesn't look like it at first, but Cesaria seems to seriously regret most of her flings and just wants her favorite son back.
- Sadist: Of the emotional variety, Cesaria and Nicodemus to each other, despite being in love. No wonder the family ends up so screwed up.
- The Sociopath: Seriously, it goes with the Geary name. Special mention goes to Michael being accused of being this, with good reason. He gives a shining image of himself at parties and professional meetings, being friendly, charming and humorous, but can't understand the simplest human emotion, like why Rachel isn't happy despite him "uplifting" her from her poor social conditions. Goes to a whole new level when not only does he refuse to put any blame on himself, but convinces himself that Rachel is simply exhausted from her new lifestyle and that she'll get in line pretty quick. Needless to say, she doesn't.
- Surveillance as the Plot Demands: The ability to project oneself to a place far away to communicate is barely touched upon, but it suddenly kicks in conveniently to bring the plot forward.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Niolopua, seen thrice and killed by Michael.