Horns by Joe Hill – Book Review

Cool Fact: The UK edition even has a quote in the front from our very own James Long!

Cool Fact: The UK edition has a quote inside the front cover from our very own James Long!

I’ve had a signed copy of this book for a year now and have been meaning to read it, only to be told by a friend that it features A LOT of snakes. Naturally, I screamed, dropped it and ran a mile.

Now, the film’s coming out at the end of this month and I really want to see it as I’m a huge fan of Joe’s, so I thought I’d grow a pair and finally give it a go (and, of course, sit in a well lit room, rocking back and forth, crying, after each passage with the snakes shivers).

So, what’s it about?

Ignatius Perrish wakes up after a night of heavy drinking (and urinating on a statue of the Virgin Mary at his dead girlfriend’s memorial site) to find he’s grown horns. Apparently this is unusual – I wouldn’t know, I don’t drink! – Ig freaks out, but other people don’t seem to react to the horns in any way. Quite the opposite happens, actually, they start to tell him their deepest, darkest desires. I especially like the bit where one guy admits that he likes to wear his mother’s underpants and get “good and hot.”

Not only do people tell Ig everything he doesn’t want to know, the moment he touches them, Ig falls into the person’s mind and sees their deepest secrets. Which is… awesome? Maybe? Uhh, no, no it really isn’t.

After a few of these encounters, Ig naturally doesn’t want to be around people. However, after an accidental confrontation with older brother Terry, Ig is set on the path to discover who really murdered his girlfriend Merrin. And boy, does it turn out to be one hell of a journey.

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Author Joe Hill looking cool as Hell

Horns is unlike any horror story I’ve read before. It wasn’t scary in the sense that it made you jump and gave you nightmares (I mean, apart from the snakes, but that’s more of a personal thing, you know?). It was one of those novels that explored the darker side of human nature, and that was where the horror element came in.

The story is told part in the present and part in flashbacks. What’s great about the flashbacks is that it adds depth to the character of Ig. I found Present Ig quite annoying to be honest. Yes, he’s had everything good in his life pulled out from under him after Merrin’s murder, but even so, I just want to shout at him to pull himself together and leave his stupid town. However, after the first flashback, you learn a little more about the Ig before Merrin’s death – the optimistic, caring Ig. Because of these flashbacks you do end up developing empathy for Present Ig. You understand that he wasn’t always a self-pitying little dick, that circumstances have made him the person he is.

The darker side of human nature is shown through pretty much EVERY other character in the novel. I don’t think there was one other person I felt sympathy for – even Ig’s girlfriend. Greed, self-interest and sadism is prevalent. None of the characters that Ig comes into contact with had any selfless desires, it was all about what they wanted and how they can take it. All they sought was permission to act out their sickest fantasies.

This is what made the story so realistic and original; no matter how much an average person wants to deny it, there is a darker side to them, a side that has to be kept tightly wrapped up because society would disapprove if these dark desires were acted upon. In Horns, Ig is the person that gives permission to act on these desires, and this speaks to us on some deep, dark level we’re too polite to pretend exists.

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ANYWAY – Horns is an astonishing piece of work. It’s a story of good and evil, where the lines aren’t exactly clear. It makes us squirm while reading it and confront desires that we would rather not think about. If you are new to Joe Hill, Horns is definitely a good place to start. Well written, fast paced and full of dark humour, it will definitely satisfy any itch you have for horror that is a little on the unconventional side.

Oh, and how do the snakes fit in to all this? Don’t make me relive it. You’re going to have to find out for yourselves…

 

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