(2010/2014) Joe Hill, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 448pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09999-9
If you did not know this already, Joe Hill's full name is Joseph Hillstrom King, and the surname might give you a clue about his parents; yes, he is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King, both novelists, so it's maybe inevitable that he has become a writer as well (like his younger brother Owen), starting with the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts which was published by PS Publishing years ago, and I was actually there at the launch in a hotel off the motorway near Salford where Fantasycon was taking place that year. He then followed that up with his first novel Heart Shaped Box, maybe inspired by the title of a Nirvana song, or maybe not, but a heart-shaped box is the perfect shape for a jaded rock star to receive a haunted suit that they have bought online, and then they have to accept the consequences and everything else that comes along with the suit. Hill also writes comics, which maybe explains why (unlike his father) he is not that prolific a novelist, and his comic work includes the mighty 'Locke and Key' series whose run came to an end recently. Sadly, despite being developed into a pilot, it has not been turned into a full-blown TV series.
The copy of 'Horns' I am reviewing is another reprint given that the novel was first published in 2010 and it is a pretty original idea for a novel, given, as the title suggests, someone wakes up after a understandable (due to the time of the year) bender to find that they are starting to grow a pair of horns out of their head. That person is Ignatius (or more commonly Ig or Iggy) Perrish who wakes up the morning after the anniversary of his girlfriend, Merrin's rape and murder. It is bad enough that this lumpy little growths are happening to you, but what will other people think, given that Ig has a bad reputation, given that almost everyone is convinced that he killed Merrin and only got away with her murder due to the influence of his rock star father who also got the forensics lab burned down to destroy any evidence that linked Ig to the crime, or that's what local people think. But these are the same people who are somehow drawn to Ig and his growing horns.
When he visits a doctor, as you would in his condition, the doctor merely shrugs and tells Ig some things that really should be kept private. And that is just the start of these weird confessions. Pretty soon, those who are talking to him fall into a trance and tell Ig things they have done or would like to do as if they are looking for his forgiveness, or permission to carry them out, and in some instances they tell Ig – painfully – what they really think about him, and some of the most cutting truths come from his friends and the closest members of his own family.
Suddenly, Ig finds himself a soldier in the eternal battle between good and evil, Heaven and Hell, except what side is he really on? And can he use his new-found powers to find out what happened to his soul mate, Merrin, the person who he should be with, but was cruelly taken from him? Using this fantastical conceit, Hill has written a multi-character viewpoint novel that has onion-like layers to explore big themes such as free will, and the nature of sin and where religion fits into today's world. As you might expect consumerism, the role of the media and popular culture also loom large and not just in the names of some of the characters that Hill has bestowed on his creation, borrowing names from The Exorcist, for example, as well as naming one section of the book after members of The Rolling Stones (guess which ones?). In his closing remarks, Hill also name checks a couple of books on religion that influenced his thinking, and also the help of his sister, Naomi, a practising minister. Horns was made into a film in 2013, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig, but as has been proven many times in the past, the book is better than the film.
See also Nadia's review of Horns.
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