Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review - Horns

Horns – Joe Hill

It is a testament to how much I rate Joe Hill as an author that I purchased “Horns.” A few years ago I read “the Heart-shaped” box, Joe’s first full length novel and whilst I liked it I did not think it was anything spectacular. When he followed it up with “Horns” despite the positive reviews, I could not bring myself to buy the novel. The premise quite frankly sounded ridiculous. A man wakes up with horns one day! I hated the idea and thought that was that.

Fast forward six months or so and I have read and loved Joe’s third novel “NOS4R2,” and have devoured three volumes of “Locke and Key” – the collected graphic novels of the comic Joe Hill writes. 

The strength of Joe’s work made me reconsider my obstinate stance on “Horns” and take the plunge.

The blurb:

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin's death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look - a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge. . . . It's time the devil had his due. . . .

Can I state immediately that anyone put off by the premise like I was, don’t be. Yes, Ig wakes up one morning to find horns on his head, but they do not feature too heavily in the novel and are explained in a rather interesting way.

The novel focuses on two parts of Ig’s life: Ig before the horns and Ig afterwards. Like his father, Joe Hill has an excellent ability to portray the life of someone growing up. Ig is a great character and one you immediately root for.

He is an outsider, broadly living in his brother’s shadow and the son of a rich family who go to church. In an attempt to prove himself in front of the “cool kids” he ends up befriending a boy called Lee. Befriends is probably a strong word, “hero worships” is more appropriate.

The result is an interesting dynamic between the two friends. Lee is not a nice boy. It is obvious to the reader but not to the other characters in the book. Hill does a great job of hinting at how dangerous Lee is without ever giving his friends cause to doubt him.

Ig after the horns is a different prospect altogether. The horns give Ig the ability to hear other people’s real thoughts and the sins they want to commit. We learn early on that Ig had been accused of murdering his girlfriend but never prosecuted due to lack of evidence. The horns allow him to understand what people truly think of him and Ig struggles to process this.

As a result some of his actions although callous are understandable as the people he loved and trusted are not who he thought they were.

We are not just limited to Ig’s POV. At one point Hill shifts to Lee’s perspective and Hill does an excellent job of demonstrating how warped his mind is. Lee interprets innocent acts of kindness in completely different ways to how they were intended yet it is easy to see how he reaches his conclusions. The result is a far more believable character and one that is a little sympathetic.

If there is a criticism, it is that almost everyone Ig comes into contact with has warped thoughts. I know everyone imagines weird things they would never do in reality, but most of the people Ig meets have such sinister base desires it does become a little hard to suspend your belief.

Underlying the whole story is the mystery as to what did happen to Ig’s girlfriend Merrin. Like all good mysteries we are drip fed information so that we form our own conclusions based on the evidence until the truth is revealed.

The answer to the mystery will be no shock to anyone. It is the resolution of the novel that is great though. I really expected the novel to end in a particular way, was actually hoping it would in fact, but when it didn’t I was far from disappointed. The conclusion is fitting to the story and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, although overall I would say I prefer “NOS4R2,” “Horns” runs it close. Joe Hill is definitely my favourite new author and I can’t wait to see what he does with “the Postman” due out in 2015.

My rating: 8.9