Review: Heart-Shaped Box

19 May

Hello dear reader(s) and welcome to another instalment of Nessa reads books and writes reviews (NRBWR). I’m writing this review ahead of my biweekly book club where we’ll discuss Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, the book we chose to read and talk about. Furthermore, I managed to finish the book 4 days ahead of schedule which is a miracle in and of itself. 😀 I usually finish it the day before ‘cause you know I have 2 weeks to read the book… Holly shit how is it Sunday before the book club already and I’m only halfway through! 😀

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s debut novel published in 2007, and the book got Hill the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel of 2007. My first encounter with this book happened 10 years ago, in 2008 when the book was translated to Croatian. I stumbled on to the book at my local library and after reading the summary I decided to give it a go. I remember being impressed with the book and how Hill superbly managed to meld the real and the supernatural. Not many authors can do that, and some fail miserably – GRRM’s Armageddon Rag comes to mind. >_< Anyways, since I liked the book so much I wanted to find out more about the author and a bit of Google fu latter led me to the comic book Locke and Key (my favourite comics of all time!) and to Hill’s biography.

In case you weren’t aware, Joe Hill’s true name (see what I did there 😀 ) is Joseph Hillstrom King and he’s the son of Stephen and Tabitha King. Yes, that Stephen King. He decided to write under a pen name because he wanted to succeed on his own merit, not just because he was the son of a famous writer. Although, since both Hill and King write horror comparisons are inevitable, both of them have their own distinctive style and voice. While reading Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box whey back when and now it never crossed my mind to compare his writing to his father. And as I already mentioned there’s no need for that, because they’re both different and brilliant in their own way.

Heart-Shaped Box tells the story of Judas Coyne, an ageing rock star and a collector of the strange. When his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site he immediately buys it. ‘cause that’s how we roll here. 😀 It turns out that the ghost he bought, or to be more precise the dead man’s suit containing the spectre, isn’t exactly Casper the Friendly Ghost. No Ma’am. Turns out that the vengeful spirit is Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of Coyne’s former girlfriend who committed suicide after he left her. Now in the form of a wraith he’s set out to kill Coyne and anyone who helps him thus beginning a series of strange things (ha! There I go again…) and weird bollocks.

Hill’s ability to mix afore mentioned weird bollocks with everyday life along with interesting and complicated characters makes Heart-Shaped Box a truly fascinating read. I like the fact that there’s no clear division of good and bad characters; that his protagonists are a mixed bag of good, bad, guilt, complexity, stupid, smart, intuitive, emphatic, assholes and everything in between. Judas Coyne can be and is an asshole par excellence, but he’s aware that he is one. He’s simultaneously a person you can sympathise with because of his abusive father and shitty childhood and a person you wanna hit with a frying pan over the head multiple times ‘cause he’s an asshole. Additionally I found it fascinating how easily he accepted the fact that a vengeful wraith wants to kill him, because he’s the person who cares more about what is the truth, than what’s logical.

Complex characters, an interesting plot, magnificent narration and Hill’s ability to blend the real and the uncanny in a coherent and well written story are the highlights of Heart-Shaped Box. It’s a fascinating read and not just for folks who like to read horror stories. Hill’s writing is intriguing and powerful and it draws you into the story and makes you forget that it’s a genre book. It’s just good storytelling. Don’t let the fact that it’s a horror story discourage you, break your preconceptions and read it! Untill next time dear reader(s)!

P.S. Vincent Chong did some brilliant illustrations inspired by Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box and other works on his blog, so check them out.

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Posted by on 19/05/2018 in Literature


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