Friday, 22 January 2010

‘Horns’ – Joe Hill (Gollancz)


I hate waking up in the morning after a few drinks the night before. The hang over is the least of my worries, I’m one of those unfortunate people who can remember every single embarrassing thing that they did or said while under the influence and ‘the morning after’ inevitably involves an internal debate over whether I dare show my face outside the house! It could be worse though; I could be one of those people who can’t remember what they did at all, just that it was something really bad. Could it get any worse than that? It can if you’re Ignatius Perrish. Just when you think that life cannot get any worse, Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ paints a stark picture of just how bad things can really get. Like all the best art, ‘Horns’ painted a picture that I just wanted to lose myself in for hours at a time...

Ignatius Perrish has no idea what he got up to last night while very drunk; only that he did terrible things. They must have been terrible if the horns growing out of the top of his head are anything to go by... Ig’s new horns come with powers that will tear the lid off the sleepy town where he grew up; a town that still blames him for the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend and wishes him dead.
With great power comes great responsibility but who should Ig be responsible to? Trying to do the right thing by everyone else never got him anywhere; maybe it’s time to do the right thing by himself...

The plan was originally to read ‘Horns’ on the morning commute and tackle other stuff in the evenings. That was the plan... What actually ended up happening was that everything else was put to one side while I became completely and utterly engrossed in the tragic and horrific tale of Ignatius Perrish.

Joe Hill has a firm grip on the course that he charts for Ig’s slow destruction; keeping the pace constant throughout and doing very well to keep the eventual outcome under wraps until the final pages. There’s only one way that things can really pan out but the nature of Ig’s internal conflict means that the reader can never be quite sure. The only way you’re going to find out is by reading right to the end and Hill makes sure that this is a definite pleasure rather than a chore.

Hill takes great relish in getting right under his character’s skin and peeling it back to show the rotten core that lurks in all of us, a core that we like to pretend isn’t there even though it is. The previously untold confessions that the reader comes across are the real moments of horror in ‘Horns’. The window into people’s souls has never had the curtains drawn so wide onto scenes so disturbing, especially when the confessions come from people you wouldn’t normally look twice at. Ig’s predicament is horrifying enough but these moments hit harder because you know, deep down, that you already have the same kind of thoughts...

Ig is a fascinating character to follow over the course of the plot. Here is a man who has discovered that life has one more cruel trick to play on him (after a series of cruel tricks) but he can use it to play a few tricks of his own. What price his mortal soul though? Does it even matter when life has become so intolerable? These are just a couple of the questions that Ig must answer and I for one was hooked on the way that his character developed as he answered these questions. A compelling picture is painted of a man who has hit rock bottom, only to have the rug pulled from under his feet and to fall even further. Hill is not afraid to throw everything he can lay his hands on at Ig; revelations towards the end of the book cast everything in a new light and really had me feeling for him! Despite everything that he goes through, Ig’s essential humanity shines through in direct conflict with what he is becoming (which made Ig’s final decision a little hard to believe...) and we learn that justice isn’t just for the wicked. Everyone is deserving of something and it makes for some good reading seeing how people get what they deserve...

Lee Tourneau is the man who personifies everything that has gone wrong in Ig’s life and whom Ig must face if his life is to progress in any way at all. Tourneau is another compelling character in his remorseless lack of empathy and thought processes that defy normal logic. Along with a natural charm, Tourneau not only represents a big obstacle to Ig but also manages to shape his life in the process. The easy way in which it happens makes things all the more chilling but, at the same time, Hill challenges us not to feel any sympathy for Tourneau at the same time. Even a rampant sociopath can act the way he does because he genuinely misread a situation and the flashback to the moment where Tourneau becomes the person he is... He may be a bastard but he didn’t have much choice in the matter and the moment of ‘childhood innocence lost’ is a sharp and intense one.

If there was one moment where I personally felt that Joe Hill dropped the ball it’s when he chooses to reveal how Ig came to have the powers that he does. Part of what really made the book work for me is that was no explanation to begin with; it’s all about what Ig does next and the fact that you don’t know what gave him his powers adds to the tension and mystique. Finding out so late in the day felt like an anti-climax to me, especially as there wasn’t a lot of time left to tie this revelation back into the story itself (although it does add an interesting new slant on an earlier event). I was left wondering if this was something that the reader actually needed to know...

However, because this niggle came so late in the day it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book as a whole as I’d had so much fun up to that point. It’s great to read a book so early in the year that sets the bar for others to follow; ‘Horns’ is one of those books. Gollancz will be publishing it next month, not sure about the US release dates though...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

7 comments:

Book Chick City said...

9.5/10 is still pretty great though. I haven't read anything by this author before although I do have Heart-Shaped Box on my shelf. I will definitely look into reading this too. :)

N. R. Alexander said...

Been looking forward to this one myself, glad to hear it'll be worth the long wait; if Amazon's telling it right, and a tweet Joe Hill's way pretty much confirms the delay, Horns has been pushed back a month and change in the UK.

Mihai (Dark Wolf) said...

This is one the hot titles of 2010 for me. I am really looking forward to read it :)

Midnighter said...

This is one book I'm really looking forward to. Joe Hill's been a must read author for me since reading a short story a couple of years ago.

ediFanoB said...

My wife is interested in Horns. Therefore I recommended her to read your great review!

Legolas said...

Thanks for the great review.
Now I'm sure to read the book this year.

Hagelrat said...

sounds good. I loved heart shaped box.