BOOK REVIEW: NOS4R2 / AUTHOR: JOE HILL / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
With his third and most ambitious novel, Joe Hill is well into his literary stride. One of the most self-assured writers of the bloated horror and dark fantasy genres, NOS4R2 is one of the most startlingly refreshing takes on the vampire story for years.
The story, one part barmy to two parts genius, follows Victoria ‘Vic’ McQueen, who has the inexplicable ability to find lost things. Far from the only one with an ability, Charlie Manx cruises in his Rolls Royce Wraith, emblazoned with the vanity plate NOS4R2, looking for children to take to Christmasland. Having escaped Manx as a child, Vic’s life is entwined with his.
A child molester is an obvious demon, though Hill does find new and gruesome ways to make your skin crawl. And yes, parts are very uncomfortable to read, with the affecting prose worming into your consciousness. Charlie is The Pied Piper, Child Catcher and Freddy Krueger all rolled up into one sadistic mix.
Vic is easily the most engaging protagonist of any of Hill’s novels and, focussing on her pre-adolescence, he gets to the heart of childhood mischief and wanderlust. With her Knight Rider obsession and the descriptions of sounds and smells, it’s incredibly heady and evocative. Going forward a few years, he captures all the rebellion of being a teen with a simple list of items found in Vic’s drawer.
Maggie is a marvellous character, one of the real standouts, a quirky librarian with a stutter and a penchant for scrabble. For geeky titbits, Lou is especially fun to read. Along with its do-gooders, there’s a host of vile creations. Bing is a particularly ghastly character, especially with his incestuous fascination with women.
Peppered with Hill’s trademarks, the novel is packed with dark satirical humour and experimentation with the chapter format. In this case it means many of the chapters continue into one another, headed up simply by locations.
There’s elements of Capote’s In Cold Blood, particularly in the chapters which report on the children’s disappearances, which sees Hill taking on a more distant, journalistic style. There’s even sly nods to Stephen King’s haunted Plymouth Fury and Christine. It’s well-paced, given its 700-page-plus length, but while compelling, the constant reminders of the pain in Vic’s left eye are cumbersome and feel patronising with their frequency.
Perhaps most excitingly are the subtle suggestions that this and Hill’s other works exist in a shared universe. If that’s the case, there’s plenty to look forward to. NOS4R2 is the latest from one of horror fiction’s modern provocateurs and isn’t to be missed.
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