After finishing a book from Stephen King’s oeuvre, which almost always offer all too supernatural, too unbelievable endings, you might spend a night or two having nightmares. But remember that Pennywise, the Overlook Hotel and the pet cemetery are only King’s scary inventions which are intended to scare the hell out of us.
In contrast, Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, though clearly inspired by the king of horror, manages to leave reader wondering after they finish his bestselling novel HEX. The ending, as creepy as it could be, provides food for thoughts about human depravity and what actually could be hidden from us.
Set in the 21st century, the novel presents a fictional American suburb called Black Spring, which lies under the curse of an ancient witch. The woman with the sewn-shut eyes and mouth appears randomly in town and the locals do nothing more than throw dishtowels onto her face in order to ignore her existence. Surprisingly, the curse has not gone viral through social media because of a high-tech surveillance team, led by Robert Grim, which supervises the town and networks 24/7. Leaving town, if only for a few weeks, is impossible for the residents, as doing so will drive them to have suicidal thoughts, which in turn is due to the cruel history of Katherine, the 17th-century witch. Any attempt to interact with her, or let alone open her eyes or mouth, has proven to be deadly for everyone around, and therefore the people are very cautious not to let the rest of the world know about her existence.
However, a group of teenagers decide to see how far they can go. They post videos on their non-public website Open Your Eyes, created by Tyler Grant, and things get out of control. The narrative pace increases notably, gradually building up the tension as the events spiral down to the inevitable, and the real nature of the people comes to the surface.
Stephen King’s influence is hardly to be missed in this novel. Olde Heuvelt spares us the tedious coming-of-age story but reminds the reader of Under the Dome, where claustrophobia and paranoia drive the nice neighbour into insanity, without the need of a supernatural phenomenon to happen. And if you have read Needful Things you will find the parallels in the description of the apparent small-town idyll and egoistic behaviour of the petit bourgeoisie.
Nonetheless, HEX is not the typical horror story that the reader would expect. Of course, witches and curses are nothing new, but the brutal events described in the book sound all too familiar to us from the history books and, sadly, the news. Olde Heuvelt has created a modern horror classic, reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, which perfectly weaves the ancient-witch-legend into the modern age of surveillance and social media. The initially almost preposterous premise slowly turns into blank horror, creeping up your spine before you even know it. By then, it’s already too late. HEX is an absolute page-turner.
By Julia Fischer