PrintE-mail Written by Dominic Cuthbert


Following the critical acclaim for his debut 2007 novel Heart Shaped Box, author Joe Hill had the tricky task of doing one better and, with the devil on his side, he’s done just that. The first half-page chapter so effortlessly sets the story up without the excess and pageantry of many of his contemporaries.

Divided up into five sections, each subdivided into ten chapters, make up the serpentine non-linear narrative, and using different viewpoints to tell the story of Ig Perrish. Having woken up hung-over where his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, was raped and murdered the year before, he finds he has grown horns. Quickly learning that people are susceptible to the horns, Ig begins hearing their innermost thoughts, and seeing unadulterated events that colour their pasts on skin contact. Using the devilish ability, Ig is determined to find out what really happened to Merrin.

Unlike many other authors working in the dark fantasy and horror genres, Hill never unjustly uses gore, and in a book centred on a brutal rape and murder that’s a tall order. His prose is never exploitative or perverse, instead studious, fully realised, and not without darkly comical flourishes.

Always with one toe in pulp novels but never without a twisted poetry, combining elements of the whodunit, the tragic love story and revenge, the prose is coloured with choice details that bring the whole story screaming into reality. By the time the fantastical elements really kick in, we’re already comfortable in Hill’s grip.

A study of the not-so black and white nature of good and evil, Horns demonstrates the darkness beneath superimposed notions of good. With some very clever religions imagery Horns is a subversive novel, no least in Ig’s sermon to the serpents.

Lee, in particular, is a brilliantly written character, and could have so easily have been a caricature in the hands a lesser writer. Many of the characters are made grotesque by the influence of the horns, and it’s the duality that really gives them depth.

Hill is laying the architecture for modern horror novels, a refreshing and necessary stripping back of the genre’s problems. With its tightly constructed prose, affecting and explorative narrative and nuanced humour, Horns is only the beginning.

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