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Author: Joe Hill

Title: Horns

Publisher: Gollancz

Hardback: 435 pages

ISBN: 978-0-575-07916-8

Price: £14.99

Publication Date: 16/03/2010

I’ve had my fair share of painful hangovers, but never has my alcohol-induced headache coincided with the discovery of a pair of horns upon my brow. And yet this is exactly the position in which the wonderfully named Ignatius ‘Ig’ Perrish finds himself at the start of Horns. Ig’s life has been on a downward spiral since his girlfriend, Merrin, was discovered raped and murdered a year before. He was never tried but the townsfolk are convinced Ig was responsible, despite the lack of evidence.

Friendless and alone, his new appendages become a visible manifestation of his pariah status. But, as Ig soon discovers, the horns are more than mere fashion accessories and have imbued him with special ‘powers’ – for anyone he meets is compelled to voice their darkest secrets and desires [which seem, for the most part, to be hate-filled or deeply perverse].

Through Ig’s powers, the identity of the killer is revealed fairly early on. But rather than make the rest of the novel solely about Ig’s quest for revenge, Hill chooses to intercut the narrative with a series of flashback’s to Ig’s past that explore his childhood and the development of his and Merrin’s love for one another. These segments take the form of a coming-of-age tale and manage to be warm-hearted and heart-breaking all at once. For we – the reader – know the horrific tragedy that awaits, but are so beguiled by the manner in which Hill brings Merrin and Ig’s relationship to the page that we find ourselves hoping against hope that destiny will somehow be averted.

But what makes Horns so good, is that it embraces the Jacobean notion of the tragicomedy so well – sadness and humour are mixed together, constantly pulling the reader in different directions. For Hill takes a gleeful and – dare I say it – devilish delight in filling Horns with demonic stereotypes and allusions [from Ig’s receding hair and goatee to pitchforks and blue dresses]. And there are also a number of pop-cultural horror references. Merrin and her sister Regan have both had there names lifted from The Exorcist and there is a hilarious reference to “fuckin’ Carrie” [the joke lies in the knowledge that Hill’s father is the doyen of literary horror, Stephen King].

For me the one slight false note lay in the decision to reveal how Ig gained his horns – it deflates the sense of mystery that had accompanied them. Nevertheless, Horns was a brilliantly original read and it is a testament to Hill’s abilities as an author that he is able to make it simultaneously funny, unsettling and emotionally complex. Now I’m off to sharpen my pitchfork. Be good bad!
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