Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex is an incredibly frightening and spooky novel. It stayed with me for more nights than I cared for. With a horror novel I guess that's praise. But this is more than just a thrill ride, for I found Hex to also be very touching with a big emotional impact.

The action takes place in Black Spring, a picturesque town in the Hudson Valley. It's present day, at one point the narrative refers to the Presidential Election of 2012. But Black Spring has a secret: it's haunted by the Black Rock Witch and her 300-year-old curse. This Seventeenth Century apparition stalks the hamlet and its environs, a terrifying vision wrapped in chains with its eyes and mouth sewn shut. We learn that in life, Katherine van Wyler was accused of witchcraft and raising the dead. She suffered the fate of all women so accused back then, torture and execution, after being forced to strangle one of her children with her bare hands whom the villagers believed she had raised from death after he passed away from Smallpox. Ever since she has haunted the village. How her eyes and mouth were stitched up, nobody knows, but all the present day townsfolk know is that if anyone ever unstitched them, the results would be horrific. As it is one stitch has been removed from the corner of her mouth and the result is anyone who hears her whispers tries to kill themselves.

Reading this, you might wonder how the author can set his novel in the present day. Wouldn't the world know about this? Wouldn't it be a worldwide sensation? He gets around this by postulating that the West Point Military Academy nearby, in cahoots with the townsfolk, have covered it up for centuries, knowing that should the wider world know, someone, somewhere, would try to unstitch her mouth and eyes. The townsfolk are all complicit in this and through a network of volunteers and CCTV cameras, they keep an eye on the witch and put in place all manner of distractions and barriers between her and any outsiders who happen to visit. It's a credit to the author how credible he makes all this seem in his tale, and as a reader I found myself buying into the plausibility of it all.

The plot itself revolves around one family's struggle with life in the village. They have teenage children who are chafing at the constraints. One aspect of the curse is that those that live there become suicidal if they leave for any length of time, meaning that the prospect of travelling, or pursuing any meaningful career outside of town, is slight. Another aspect of life in the village is that the Internet and social media is strictly controlled to prevent anyone leaking information of the witch to the outside world. Along with a few friends, the eldest son is secretly filming the witch and experimenting to see just how powerful she is.

I won't say much more for fear of divulging spoilers, but what I will mention is that a central character commits suicide after hearing the witch’s whispering. I mention this for a reason and that is that this part delivers much of the novel’s emotional resonance.. The author describes the devastation of grief the character's family feels after his death so vividly, that at times I found the book extremely difficult to read. I can only imagine the pain that a suicide would cause to a family and he paints a picture of utter desolation, of a huge void left in the centre of what was once a happy and contented family unit.

This is an incredibly powerful novel and one that I would not hesitate to give 5 stars to. It's frightening and the scenes where the witch appears might keep you up at night. However, I think it important to warn that if you have suffered a recent bereavement, especially through suicide, you might want to give this a miss. For some of the chapters are heartrending in their sorrow.

5 out of 5 stars

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