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Literature / The Damnation Game

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I wanted to do a covenant with the devil story without a devil. One of my favourite revelations in the book is when they finally work out that 'they have no devil on their back, just old humanity, cheated of love and ready to pull down the world on its head'. I like that. If finally we look for a source of malice, we look for lovelessness... Obvious pains. On top of these obvious pains come elaborate configurations.
Clive Barker

The Damnation Game is a 1985 horror novel by Clive Barker. It was published just after Barker had achieved commercial and critical success with his horror short story series The Books of Blood, making it one of his earliest works and his first novel.

In prison for a robbery he committed to pay off a gambling debt, the odds seem to finally turn in Marty Strauss's favor when he's offered a rare deal: he can work off the remainder of his prison sentence as a bodyguard for the eccentric billionaire Joseph Whitehead. Strauss settles in comfortably at Whitehead's compound and finds his job to be pleasantly cushy, but there's quite a bit that's off. Whitehead lives in a state of paranoia that isn't explained away by just being a rich corporate magnate in the public eye, and there's something rather unwholesome about Whitehead's relationship with his daughter, Carys, who lives an isolated life and endures an untreated heroin addiction. Whitehead's close friend and associate Mr. Toy disappears for seemingly no reason. And, worst of all, Marty has an encounter with an ascetic man named Mamoulian, who has the power to conjure illusions, read thoughts, and even raise the dead (sort of), and who apparently made some kind of agreement with Whitehead in the ruins of Warsaw in 1945...


A bestseller, The Damnation Game further cemented Clive Barker's already established reputation as an up-and-coming star of the horror genre. Since it is not-for-young-adults Clive Barker, of course, expect Nausea Fuel, Body Horror, and explicit sexual themes with a good helping of Fan Disservice.

There was talk of a The Damnation Game miniseries or film adaptation in the '00s with reports of a completed script, but plans vanished into Development Hell. However, around 2012, there were claims that a The Damnation Game film is back in development.


The Damnation Game contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: When she has a vision of her dead mother reaching out to hug her, Carys reflects that her mother never touched her in real life. Worse is Whitehead, who deliberately got his daughter addicted to heroin and keeps her in the habit just so she won't abandon him. Then there's the incest...
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mamoulian. Although it is possible he's asexual, due to his distaste for sex, most of his interactions with Whitehead come across as a scorned and obsessive ex-lover with how desperate he is to be with him again. It's implied he even killed Whitehead's wife when she told her husband to stop seeing him. Whitehead even makes a passing mention to Marty regarding the possibility of Mamoulian's feelings for him.
  • Arch-Enemy: Even though Whitehead isn't exactly a heroic figure, to say the least, a lot of this trope applies to Whitehead and Mamoulian: both have a complex relationship with mutual admiration and even friendship but also hate, it's personal for both of them, and they have similar origins as nobodies who through luck found someone to tutor them into achieving remarkable things. There's a foil too: Mamoulian is an ascetic who tried to accomplish great things through his powers, while Whitehead is a hedonist who used those powers just for personal gain.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Marty and Carys survive and Mamoulian and Breer are destroyed for good, but it's left ambiguous whether or not Carys and Marty genuinely love each other, if they'll be able to escape blame for the murders that have occurred, and if because of that Carys will ever be able to come forward to claim her rightful inheritance; Mamoulian had succeeded in his mission to kill Whitehead; and thanks to Mamoulian two young missionaries turned into murderous sociopaths are still at large in London.
  • Body Horror: Let's just say that, if you read this book, you'll want to gird yourself if you're a dog lover... Mamoulian's fate isn't exactly delightful either.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Carys. If anything it's surprising she isn't more of one given that she's a drug addict and a telepath.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Much of the story is told from Marty's and other characters' perspectives so we don't really see Whitehead in the boardroom, but it is implied he hasn't been particularly moral about his business dealings. But we do see Whitehead try to force Marty into a high-class orgy as a "joke."
  • Deal with the Devil: Marty thinks that Mamoulian might be the Devil and Whitehead does credit Mamoulian to some extent with his business successes, but Mamoulian doesn't want Whitehead's soul, as such. He genuinely only wanted an apprentice and a friend. After Whitehead's betrayal, Mamoulian now only wants Whitehead to die with him.
  • Decadent Court: Whitehead presides over a modern corporate executive version.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Charmaine, Marty's ex-wife. Once she reveals she turned to prostitution after Marty's incarceration, she and her pimp are soon killed off by the two young missionaries who mistook her lover as Marty.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: It isn't clear if Mamoulian is a true immortal and is dying just because he's lost the will to keep going, but Marty does find out the hard way that Mamoulian can survive even having his body literally hacked to bits.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Mamoulian. It's implied through descriptions of his cold skin that he's undead himself and lives off the life energy of his victims, and creates his undead lieutenants by injecting that life energy into them.
  • Psychic Powers: Carys, Mamoulian, and Whitehead , although Whitehead only used them to amass a fortune and apparently can't use them to the extent his daughter and Mamoulian can. It's implied that Mamoulian can only pass his "gifts" on to someone who innately has these, which is at least part of why he became interested in Whitehead in the first place.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Described in the book as a "puritan," Mamoulian is revolted by sex and gore and, while in a casino, forsakes alcohol for distilled water. Of course, this doesn't stop him from allowing and ordering his undead minions to commit depraved and horrific acts of torture, murder, and even undead-on-corpse sex.
  • Undeath Always Ends: This applies to those resurrected by Mamoulian, most notably Breer. Mamoulian can apparently slow it down, but decay eventually catches up to them. In Breer's case, it leaves him a heavily made-up, reeking walking corpse.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Mamoulian has a bad case of this, particularly lamenting that immortality has only made his terror of death worse, as does Breer.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Fate and chance are major themes of the book. Marty and Whitehead are compulsive gamblers, while Mamoulian barely cheated death before gaining immortality. Mamoulian ultimately dies (sort of) the way he was "supposed" to have died, and despite going to extreme lengths Whitehead fails to escape from Mamoulian.

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