Publishing Info: 2016 by Hodder and Stoughton
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
Welcome to Black Spring,
a picturesque town
with an ugly secret.
A 17th century woman
with sewn-shut eyes and mouth
walks its streets . . . enters its homes . . .
watches its people when they sleep.
They call her the Black Rock Witch.
So accustomed to her presence, the townsfolk
often forget what will happen if her eyes ever open.
To protect themselves the Black Spring elders use
high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town.
Frustrated with the lockdown, the town’s teenagers
decide to break the rules and go viral with the haunting.
But no one foresees the dark nightmare
that awaits them all.
HEX is a great piece of storytelling that forces readers to examine the hysteria of a society cut off from the modern world.
Essentially split into two parts, the first section is quite good to read, if nothing mind-blowing. The idea that the town of Black Spring lives their daily lives in the presence of a 17th-century witch, who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut, is an interesting idea. It can reference both the horror trope of a guardian supernatural entity and the concept that in the modern day we are constantly under surveillance that we cannot fully escape.
The narrative follows the eldest son of the central family and his quest to video document the Black Rock Witch on camera. By having the protagonist as someone who has grown up in the town, which has its own laws and expectations from the outside world, whilst being exposed to technological advances such as YouTube and blogs, there is an unsettling clash that reminded me of M Night Shyamalan’s film The Village, though this has much more quality to it. The politics between the adult figures go on in the background but by having a fundamentally likeable protagonist leading us through the main narrative, the presence of Katherine the witch isn’t as scary once the reader gets past her initial shocking appearance.
My feelings completely changed upon reading the first page of part two; this was a massive game-changer that threw the town into anarchy. Though there had been a build-up of emotion from the citizens of the village in the scenes leading up to the end of the section, this did not prepare me for the shock I received. This was a good move by the author, throwing his readers into the unknown and making them even more vulnerable to the rest of the narrative.
Section two became a question of morality also; is the monstrous being a figure in its own right or a result of the objectification from the rest of society. There were many monstrous acts towards the end of the novel and for me the most shocking ones were the ones that came from the hands of the human citizens of the town. The ending is in effect a punishment for the hatred and the pack-mentality of Black Spring and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s the moment where I felt completely disconnected from the main plot and the emotions of the characters and given that it was doing such a good job in getting me to identify with them, it was a bitter blow. I’d almost have preferred an open ending where it was left to the reader’s imagination as to the future of the town but given that it was dictated to me, it left me feeling cold.
Overall, HEX deserves to be up there with some of the classics of horror literature, Stephen King especially, with the question of monstrosity and where it originates coming out prominently in the epic but ultimately unemotional ending. I just wish that the final few pages were not printed.