“It was, perhaps, the devil’s oldest precept, that sin could always be trusted to reveal what is most human in a person, as often for good as for ill” (300). Joe Hill (a.k.a. Joseph King, son of Stephen King) takes some risks in writing about sins, a psychopath, and a murder. If you are ready for a very Stephen King-esque horror novel, you’ve picked the right book.
*Contains mild spoilers*
Ignatius Perrish is a man whose girlfriend has been murdered, a crime the entire town accuses him of, and wakes up one morning after a ruckus of a night to find that he has sprouted horns. Ig is thrown for a loop when he wakes up to his current girlfriend telling him her innermost sins as if talking to a personal demon, which is exactly what Ignatius Perrish has become, everyone’s personal demon they spill all their sins to and ask for permission from him to sin even more.
I am going to warn you right away, this novel is not for the faint of heart. There is strong language, sexual scenes, and a heavy focus on questioning religion (heaven and hell, demons, and God and the devil himself). This is a novel that delves deeply into the array of human sin, a question of what is next after death, and the psychology of humans trying to grasp these vast ideas of religion. If you are easily offended, this novel is not for you. But, if you’re looking for some great scare tactics, this disturbing novel is definitely for you. There were times I didn’t want to read this novel because I was home alone and other times that I wouldn’t even take it to bed because I didn’t want it to be that close to me while I slept. Horror level of this novel is hands down a 5/5.
So, now to actually begin this review. I struggled with trying to come up with a rating for this novel. First, starting out, Hill was well on his way to five stars. Then, the middle section happened, and it plummeted to three stars. But, Hill redeemed himself in the last hundred pages and achieved a solid four-star rating.
The writing is simple, and exceptionally full of blunt words used for description. Hill does not shy away from this type of language, but it works for the novel. Nothing feels out of place, in the writing anyway, since waking up and sprouting horns might seem completely out of place. Hill comes off as an educated man who can talk about issues with a sense of knowing how to portray them in his writing. There were few grammatical errors (always a plus!), and the writing flowed seamlessly throughout the novel. The writing style is also interesting, because Hill writes from the perspective of an omniscient narrative, so we get to personally go inside of a few of the characters throughout the novel.
Now, the plot. I found the plot to be intriguing and leaving everything to be desired in all the right ways. Hill explores an interesting subject and, mostly, moves the plot along in nicely paced fashion. Hill alternates between the present and the past often and is able to transition to each impeccably. It is not hard to deal with these rapid changes throughout the story. This is also a good technique that Hill uses because he withholds all the right information as well as gives out all the right information to keep the reader going and wondering what could possibly happen next and how it will all add up in the end, and everything does, more or less, add up in the end. Hill brings all the pieces of his story together nicely to from a narrative that is intriguing, disturbing, and wonderful all at the same time.
There is only one thing that I didn’t find come together at the end. I guess it made a bit of an appearance, but it still wasn’t pulled together like I wanted it to be. Ig and his brother Terry both grew up playing the horn. For Ig, it didn’t quite work out since his asthma didn’t allow him to play the horn, but Terry goes on to become famous for playing the instrument and even lands his own TV show in L.A. I wasn’t quite sure what the irony of this was throughout the novel and what role it played in the ending. I also wanted to find some irony to tie it to the title, but I couldn’t. This is a legit discrepancy that bothered me and is still bothering me. What is the significance of the two boys playing the horn? Ahhh! I have a few theories, but nothing as strong as I want it to be.
Okay, enough of that mini rant. Next up is character development. I thought that all the characters had solid development. I was able to like/love the ones I was supposed to like and hate the ones I was supposed to hate. Lee is a great villain in this novel. Strange as it may seem, the devil is not the villain in this novel. Crazy right? I told you you’d be in for a wild ride if you delve into this novel. All the characters had an individual personality, and Hill does a good job of writing that for them. There aren’t really any throwaway characters. Every one that exists in this novel exists for a reason, and that is impressive.
So, all these characters must be here for a reason, right? Right. Hill’s novel is really, to me, a deep psychoanalysis of the human psyche and how humans deal with the bad things that happen in life and what happens to us after we die. The main focus, though, of this novel is religion and how humans react to this idea of religion, mainly demons – especially in Ig’s case. Hill is not afraid to examine our deepest thoughts, our most intimate sins that we keep only to ourselves, the ones we are only willing to discuss with our inner demon, our constant battle with that little devil on our left shoulder. As much as we may want to deny these thoughts, we have them none the less, sitting there rotting in the back of our minds, waiting to be coaxed out and given permission to act. Hill takes his readers to those dark places no one wants to acknowledge.
Religion is not the only psychoanalysis Hill is willing to take on. He also takes the challenge of writing inside the mind of a complete psychopath. Lee, as I mentioned, is the main villain of this novel, and boy does that come across loud and clear. Lee is not a likeable character from the very start. He is detestable, absolutely, 100% detestable. Hill dives right into the caverns of this man’s mind, and, compared to this man’s sins, everyone else’s look like a unicorn party with sparkly rainbows and butterflies. I am not going to sugarcoat anything; being inside Lee’s mind is disturbing and exceedingly unsettling. There were times when I couldn’t even pick up this novel because I wasn’t mentally prepared to dive into something so thought-provoking and disquieting. Lee is one worrying character – let me tell you. Here’s a nice ironic quote from Lee’s mother describing to Lee the behavior of a psycho tomcat. “‘He [the cat] won’t learn to like you…He’s past the point where he can learn to feel for people. He’s not interested in you or anyone, and never will be. He only turns up hoping we’ll put something out for him, and if we don’t feed him, he’ll stop coming around” (271). Maybe Ig and Merrin, Ig’s dead girlfriend, should have stopped feeding Lee when they had the chance, and I don’t mean food.
Now, one quick note of the irony of Ig’s name. First, Perrish. If the spelling is altered slightly, we end up with parish, which is a small community with it’s own priest/pastor. This is the definition in the Christian religion and that happens to be exactly what we’re dealing with. And, this happens to be the exact type of community Iggy, himself lives in. Next, Ignatius, which happens to be very close to the root word ignotius, which happens to be latin for “the unknown for the more unknown.” This, in my opinion, fits well with the premise of the novel: Ig is trying to find out the unknown (his girlfriends death) by dabbling in the unknown (embracing being a demon). Now, putting his name together, Ignatius Perrish, we might come up with Saint Ignatius Parrish who happened to die of cancer. Now, I’m not going to ruin anything about where cancer might come into play, but I’m just saying, you know, cancer. And, I admit that I might be reading WAY too far into this, but I’m simply going to leave this paragraph here and you can use this information however you will.
One final thing to touch on. This novel has been made into a movie. If you aren’t already aware, the wonderful Daniel Radcliffe was cast as Ignatius Perrish. So, it’s safe to say, I am excited to see this book-to-movie adaption. I haven’t yet, but it is most certainly on my list of things to watch! Harry Potter has grown horns! It’s a must see. I just hope it’s as good as I want it to be!
Well, that review was much longer than I originally expected, but there is just so much to talk about. This novel was not lacking, and is definitely worth the read if horror is your thing, especially if you like young Stephen King novels. So dive in and enjoy something different and unexpected. Because “[m]aybe all the schemes of the devil were nothing compared to what men could think up” (338).
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