Horns by Joe Hill
Time for a guest review from my partner in crime @MadNad. The sharp eyed amongst you may have spotted I’ve reviewed this title before, but it’s being re-released as a movie tie-in so I thought it may be high time for someone to revisit and offer their opinions. So without further ado over to @MadNad and Joseph Hillstrom King
Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician, the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star. Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more – he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring and unlikely midsummer magic.
The beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone – raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances – and Ig the only suspect. He was never tired for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.
Now Ig is possessed of horns, and a terrible new power – he can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets – to go with his terrible new look. He means to use it to find whoever 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.
I read Horns for the first time back in early 2013. I had not long finished reading 20th Century Ghosts, and was so impressed by Joe Hill’s writing, I was looking for something else just to make sure this wasn’t a fluke.
Ignatious ‘Ig’ Perrish lives in a small town in New Hampshire where the whole town treats him as some kind of pariah. Despite never being charged over his girlfriend Merrin’s gruesome murder a year earlier, everyone views him as guilty. He is largely ignored as he spirals deeper into depression. Life gets more interesting for Ig when he wakes one morning with the mother of all hangovers, no recollection of what he did the night before, and horns on his head. His understandable reaction is to seek medical aid. It is his initial iteractions with friends and medical staff, then later his family, he learns there is more to these horns than meets the eye. They seem to compel others to tell him the absolute truth. Not just their brutally honest feelings about him, which are the kind of truths you just don’t want to hear about yourself, but also their deepest darkest desires.
When Ig starts to use these powers for his own amusement, the tale takes a darkly comic turn. Having had the pleasure of seeing Mr Hill talk on a couple of occasions, I can vouch for the fact he has a sense of humour that is dark, self-deprecating, and sharp as a pin. Touches of his humour embody Ig and his actions.
When I first started reading the book, I felt frustrated by fact the story flits between the present day and the time leading up to Merrin’s murder. The jumps between past and present were a little jarring, but never is the story hard to follow. The gap gets ever shorter as Ig uses his new gifts to manipulate those around him, and follows the clues to not only the missing portion of his memory, but eventually to the truth behind Merrin’s death. This unconventional handling of the timeline very quickly feels natural, and it is actually incredibly clever and well-constructed. The pay off when the two timelines meet is worth any initial frustration as all the pieces of the puzzle fall together.
I really liked Ig as a character. He is quite pathetic when we first meet him, not having handled his fall from grace terribly well. Through flashbacks, you get to meet a younger Ig, and his first meetings with his one true love. You get to see a kid who holds the promise to be a great man. Such is the greatness of Hill’s characterisation of Ig, even when as a behorned adult who starts to do some questionable things, you are still rooting for him.
Merrin, however, I found slightly generic. She is too perfect – beautiful, kind, gentle, loved by everyone and certainly too good for Ig. She is quite dull, and I found I couldn’t muster any sorrow at her fate. At first this annoyed me, but then I started to think that the reader’s view of Merrin is through Ig’s eyes. He loved her deeply and is view of her is through rose-tinted glasses. The book is filled with the symmetry of good vs evil, light vs dark, and the two women that embody that are the angelic and perfect Merrin, compared to the only other female of consequence, the trashy Glenna.
I personally found Glenna a much more likeable character than Merrin, as she at least does have some complexity. My only issue with Glenna is the physiognomies Hill has given her to reinforce the fact this character is trampy, kind hearted but slightly pathetic, and one to be pitied. She is frequently described as being overweight with tattoos. This describes a fair amount of my friends, hell it even describes me. I felt a little like the author was saying she is fat therefore she must have low self-esteem, and she has tattoos therefore she must be a tramp. It felt… slightly clichéd and a little judgy.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone. It is wretched, witty, and enthralling. The writing is clever and masterful, despite the few faults I had. I think that if you are of a sensitive or conservative disposition, it might not be the book for you. It is a tragic love story, a murder mystery, and a supernatural fantasy with a dash of theological satire to sweeten the deal.
Gollancz have re-released the book with a movie tie-in cover. The movie comes out on 31st October, so there is still time to read the book before going to see the movie. However, do so with caution. I would never tell you not to read the book – it’s excellent, and one of my favourites in recent years. My caution is given about trying to compare the book to the film version – down that road lies madness. They are two very different mediums, and while I am eager to see the movie, I appreciate it won’t be a carbon copy of the book. Read one, watch the other, enjoy both.
Horns is published by Gollancz and is available now. The movie version of Horns is released in UK cinemas from Wednesday 29th October.