Heart-Shaped Box

January 15, 2008

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill.

Everyone knows by now that Joe Hill is actually Joseph Hillstrom King, son of a rather more famous writer King, right? Right.

While it’s possibly unfair to compare Joe to his old man, it can’t be helped in this case. I wouldn’t have picked up this book if I hadn’t been curious about how he was going to perform, simply because I ordinarily don’t like ghosts as horror figures. A good thing, then, as Heart-Shaped Box is a very good book.

Hill’s come up with an interesting twist on ghost tropes — someone buys a ghost on an Internet auction, and thereafter can’t get rid of the murderous bastard. Throughout the story it becomes clearer that the purchase has been a set-up and what starts off as a fairly straightforward haunting sinks into far darker, and ultimately more human, territory.

His prose is quite spare; something of a contrast, maybe deliberately so, against his father’s — occasionally too spare, and I feel that’s something he’ll develop more as he goes along. The reader can’t lose sight of the fact that this is Hill’s first novel, after all, and despite some rough spots in prose and characterisation, an unpolished diamond of a story nonetheless. As the novel escalates so does the violence, with some scenes that are eerily… well, gross, and very reminiscent of similarly-themed violent interludes in Stephen King novels such as Black House and It.

And whilst it’s sometimes a little sketchy and rough getting there, the final showdown more than makes up for it: in fact, it’s one of the best pieces of climactic writing I’ve had the pleasure to read recently, and stands perfectly as the tale’s dénoument.

Joe Hill’s first full-length novel can sit deservedly on the same shelf as his father’s books. But — and perhaps more importantly to him (and me, as a voracious reader of horror hungry for new authors! :P) — if Heart-Shaped Box is an indication of his writing future, then he deserves his own.

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