Hex - Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Genre: Horror/Ghost Story
Synopsis: Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay 'til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town's teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.


Review: I was so sure for so much of this novel that it was going to turn out to be a five star read, but unfortunately the ending let it down (for me). Not mentioned in the synopsis is that this novel was originally written in Dutch, and not only translated into English, but Americanized - moving the setting to America, changing names etc. The author did this to make the experience of reading the novel more relate-able to international readers - rather than it being a quirky Dutch story, it would be something that could happen in their own little towns. I wonder, a little, if this change is what made the ending not work for me. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though.

This is, even translated, an extremely well written novel. Traditional ghost stories tend to rely on their lack of modernity - lack of electricity, phones going dead, being cut off from the world. Modern ghost stories occasionally revolve entirely around the use of modern devices, like the Paranormal Activity films. They're not great films, but the idea is the scary stuff is what's picked up on the devices. This book places modern life and technology into a traditional setting, and focuses on a younger, modern generation challenges the traditions of old. It's really quite a unique setup, and although there are quite a few classic horror tropes in here, they're well written enough to be genuinely spooky. Not a few times I was reminded of Salem's Lot, probably the only other horror story I've read where an entire community is built up and credibly portrayed in one book.  At the same time, the idea of this ghost town with intricate surveillance of an ancient ghost layered on top of that community requires a hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief, and there were a few occasions where that nagged me. All the same, the vast majority of this book is spooky, immersive and wholly successful in what (I thought) it tries to do.

The end, however. The end. Hm. I can definitely see a lot of people liking it, but it seemed to become a little bit stream-of-consciousness and a little bit metaphorical, and it honestly lost me a bit. I know what was literally happening, but any messages or morals the author was trying to convey were probably largely lost on me, because I didn't realise for most of the book that that was what he was building to. I wound up skimming the last 20 or 30 pages, so that was a bit of a disappointing end to something that would otherwise probably have gotten 5 stars. I still highly recommend it for an excellent creepy read, though.

Rating: 4/5

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