Thursday, 16 June 2011

Book Review : Joe Hill 'Horns'

Joe Hill first came to my attention when I was fortunate enough to pick up his first novel, HEART SHAPED BOX, on impulse, a year or so ago. On reading the blurb on the back, I was instantly sold. ( A man who buys a ghost on EBay? Brilliant). I figured that the novel itself could never live up to such an original concept. Jesus, was I wrong. HSB was a brilliant read, and for a first novel it was damned near a miracle. Hill could have peaked with this first novel and been sailing high the rest of his career. Its that good.

With that in mind, when I picked up his second full length horror novel, HORNS, I was pretty damn excited to see where this guy would go next. I expected some pretty great things, but I never expected for a second that he would take the leaps and bounds that he has in this novel. HORNS is a masterpiece.

The concept, or at least all I KNEW of the concept, (and I advise you to take the same route), was that a young man awakens one morning after a heavy night on the sauce, to find he has horns growing out his head. That in itself lead me to believe Hill was onto a winner. I figured this would be a lighthearted tale, blending horror and comedy together in a breezy, fun filled jaunt dealing with satanism or witchcraft, and while there are some decidedly dark laughs to be found here; this book is deadly serious about its subject matter. It's by far one of the most emotionally devastating novels I've ever come across, matched only by Jack Ketchum's THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. HORNS broke my heart, but it does so much more.

Its hard to write about Hill's masterwork without giving away any plot details, or any of its many many twists. I will say that the revelations, and they come often, hit you full force in the psyche and in the heart. Yes, HORNS is a horror tale with supernatural overtones, but it goes far beyond a simple horror novel, and is infinitely deeper than I expected. Its also a very honest and insightful look at the frailty of true love. At the agonies and the ecstasies of being in that wondrous state. Its a fearless study of loss and the terrible toll it can take on the human spirit.  HORNS looks deep into the darkest recesses of the human heart and finds there both the capacity for infinite beauty, and irredeemable ugliness. It takes us for a ride down a very dark, very evil road, where the only light to guide our way is that of one mans desperate love, and desire for justice. Its powerful as hell.

And the one man I speak of is Ignatius Perrish, or Ig for short, and what a character. When we meet Ig, he's fallen a very long way, and his tale arouses immediate sympathy, (for the devil?). This is a guy like any one of us. He's made mistakes, and he's tried his best to be a good man, and its gotten him precisely fucking nowhere. Ig is instantly likable; a simple guy battling with tragedy who comes into demonic powers which may bring good or ill, for Ig and those he loves. Your with him all the way as he struggles with both the world around him and himself. If Ig is our guiding light, then its his love for Merrin, his soul mate, that shines out from within him, keeping us barely sane as we travel with him into the fire. Its Merrins presence in his heart that allows for his soul to stay essentially human, as he undergoes his dark transformation. The tale of doomed love that unfolds between these two ripped my heart out. This is one of only three books that has reduced me to tears, (one of the others being Ketchum's, TGND). Its a timeless love story, and one which dances around all the cliches and all the bullshit to get right to core of the reasons why we hurt those precious to us, often on purpose. These are real people and you may well see yourself in them. I know I did, in Ig.

To counterpoint the love so brilliantly explored here, there is its polar opposite. A villain so fucking despicable I often had to put the book down to get my head together. Hill explores in depth, the mind and 'soul' of this very human monster with just as much passion and insight as he does our 'hero's'. His actions and his mindset are revolting, yet very plausible. Its the blunt, mindless actions of this bastard that leads Ig on his hellish journey into self discovery. A better villain I've never come across. The book does contain some strong violence, and while for a guy like me that's always welcome, here the violence is very disturbing, and Hill is, wisely, far more concerned with the aftermath of violence than the act itself

The book also has a decidedly demonic vibe coursing through it, and asks very pertinent questions about what we think of as 'Satan'. The answers Hill arrives at may upset some readers, but that's to be expected. There are passages here that feel positively Satanic. One section called 'The Fire Sermon', ends with a scene so soaked in devilish imagery and wordplay, it rises to the level of mythic. New scripture for the unbelievers. This book may not be for those of the Christian variety, unless your curious about how the other half thinks, is all I'm saying.

So there you have it, Joe Hill has written a book that has taken my breathe away. I book so profoundly sad and human that I have to hold it among the very best I've ever read. Its a thriller, a horror, a beautiful love story, and a ferocious tale of good versus evil that every fan of horror, and of literature, would do well to read. HORNS is just wonderful.

10 out of 10


  1. Dude, that's crazy. I was at the book store yesterday looking for this. I bought Heart shaped box of ebay 3 months ago (because I knew he was Kings son)and finished it the day it came. I liked the fucked up back story about georgia(?)and how the old man was a toucher. Sick how he would erase her memory of it. I also heard it was picked up to become a movie..... I'm gona buy this off amazon since it only 4 bucks. You should be getting paid to write all this

  2. Thanks, man. Thats what Im workin towards. If you liked HSB you'll love this. Its brilliant. I loved HSB too, man. Finsihed it in record time as well,lol. Im now reading his shorty story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. So far, its great.

  3. HSB was one fucked up book. The old guy was scary as hell. Some of the scenes in there freaked me right out. Im gonna read again soon and review, actually. I thought the main character was fantastic, very real. Flawed as fuck and yet I was rooting for him all the way. The ghost was a mean sonofabitch! :)