Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

A tour of any decent bookshop at the moment can seem a bit like a literary Eurovision, or a United Nations of novels. Quirky Nordic novels, Spanish crime fiction, beautifully crafted bijou French novellas, series of Italian bildungsroman – and that’s before we start on the multitude of authors from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia…Personally I love it: while learning about differences between the writer’s culture and my own I am reminded of all the things which we have in common as human beings. The only problem I have is working out how names are pronounced so I do tend to mentally refer to Raskolnikov as Razzy, or, possibly, Bob…

Anyway, I digress. Oddly, with all this international literature around, one country I was woefully uninformed about, fictionwise, was the Netherlands. Honestly, I could name more famous Belgians than I could Dutch writers and we all know how challenging that is! Hex_jkt.jpg.size-230Hex, by the young Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, could change all this though. There are plenty of people out there writing blood-soaked zombie horror or ‘urban fantasy’ but potential heirs to the work of masters like Stephen King or James Herbert are far and few between. Despite looking even younger than Owen Jones Heuvelt could very well be that writer…

The plot involves a seemingly idyllic town in upstate New York which harbours a dark secret. The whole community of Black Spring is under a curse, living their entire lives in thrall to the Black Rock witch, and it has been since her premature death back in the C17th. The witch’s eyes and mouth are sewn closed  and somehow she drives anyone who tries to leave the community (even just for a few days) to insanity and suicide. This is, of course, a modern community so the town leaders keep an eye on the witch via a sophisticated cctv system and do their best to discourage incomers. The one thing, however, which they are powerless to prevent is the frustration the town’s teenagers feel at the restrictions they must all live under.

This book isn’t scary because of what the witch does – although she is a deeply creepy and unsettling figure – but because of the actions of the townspeople. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre (which I don’t often do), ‘hell is other people’. The witch aspect of this book is pure speculative fiction – everything else that happens is down to the dark side of human nature and it rings all-too-chillingly true.

Jane

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