REVIEW: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Title: HEX
Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt
My overall rating: 5/5
Get it here from Amazon
First thoughts

When HEX appeared in my Goodreads' recommendations, I was intrigued. I suddenly realised that even though I am obsessed with The Walking Dead and other horror-related TV shows and films, I have never read a horror novel. I decided there and then that HEX was going to be the first one I read.

And I'm so glad I did.

Good bits

I whizzed through HEX. Olde Heuvelt has such an interesting writing style that even shines through being translated from Dutch to English, showing how talented he is. I could not put this book down. I have seen a few other reviews talk about how some of the idioms Olde Heuvelt uses don't translate well into English but I didn't notice it, I must have been too immersed in the story to realise.

I absolutely love the concept of the story. A town being haunted by a 300-year-old witch who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut to prevent utter chaos being released, and then some sneaky teenagers who want to push the limits? Yes, please! What really worked for me was the incredible way Olde Heuvelt explored the unheimlich in the story. I have recently discussed the unheimlich in seminars at University so naturally it made me feel clever when I could recognise what he was doing. In a blog post, Olde Heuvelt acknowledges that:

'To thoroughly scare readers, you have to create a perfect sense of familiarity in a story and then rip it to pieces as soon as they're hooked.'

Boy, does he know what he's doing. By setting it in a small-ish town in America with a regular nuclear family at the heart of the story, Olde Heuvelt immediately appeals to most of America. So when he 'rip[s] it to pieces', the reader gets a bit uncomfortable. Also, not only is it Katherine that makes the story scary, but the people of Black Spring are a threat just as big as the witch. Olde Heuvelt shows that when under pressure, humans can be dangerous to one another; which is super similar to my fave, The Walking Dead. Therefore, when people say the HEX isn't scary because Katherine isn't scary, I'd like to remind them that Katherine isn't meant to be the only scary one in the story.

I know HEX isn't a comedy, but some parts of it are quite amusing. I love the way the Grants put a tea towel over the witch's head so they don't have to force themselves to see her rotting face. It implies that the fact there is a witch sitting in their kitchen is no biggie, they can just pretend she's not there. Whereas I'm pretty sure the normal reaction would be to scream and possibly run for your life, depending on how you're feeling.

Not-so-good-bits

I refuse to admit there are 'bad bits' of HEX, which is why I've changed the name of this section of my review.

At first, I wasn't a fan of the inclusion of modern day technology in the story. I thought it would detract from the horror. However, I soon came to realise that by involving the internet and mobile devices, HEX became so much more horrifying than other horror stories. Most horror stories seem from a parallel world because you convince yourself zombies and aliens don't exist, but that mindset changes when the story includes more and more things that are familiar to you and your life. I found myself worrying that the witch would appear at the foot of my bed, whereas I don't worry about zombies coming to eat me.

One aspect of HEX that didn't sit well with me was the presentation of women. All the female characters were either the witch, crazy, lazy or passive compared to the men. Dating back to the age of fairy tales, witches have always been female, presenting them as subhuman and lesser than the men. I know it is slightly unreasonable of me to criticise the use of a witch, but Olde Heuvelt doesn't exactly redeem himself with the other characters. In my opinion, the most troubled character is Griselda Holst as she worships Katherine as some sort of saviour, presenting women as delirious and weak. Furthermore, for some reason, there are a good few chapters dedicated to revealing Katherine's breast. At age 34, you'd think Olde Heuvelt would have better things to focus on.

Afterthoughts

It is safe to say that, currently, HEX is my favourite book of all time. It has affected me in more ways than I thought it would, being my first horror novel and all. I have recommended this book to friends and family numerous times and look forward to discussing it with them to see what they think. But for now, I'll keep trying not to think about it right before I fall asleep.

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