A mystery play – Joe Hill’s Horns

I picked up Joe Hill‘s second novel, Horns (Victor Gollancz, London, £14.99), at Forbidden Planet‘s stall at Eastercon (along with the latest Alastair Reynolds) which I gulped down yesterday. As with gulping down beer, the experience has left me with a hangover but it was worth it. Despite what could be deeply unpleasant material in too many hands, Hill’s writing explores and reveals aspects of relationships and people. In some ways it carries on from the loneliness/emptiness of Heart-Shaped Box, his first novel.

Ig wakes up one morning, finds that he is considered guilty for the murder of his ex-partner, Merrin, and grows horns. Going through a series of acts, like a modern mystery play, Ig’s previously privileged life is turned inside out and he is forced to confront himself. He is sure that he knows who the killer is  and lures him into a fiery confrontation.

Horns turns into an exploration of the nature of the Devil and Ig gives a long, reasoned speech where he argues that God is afraid of both women and the Devil (p 257/8). It is a fine piece of smooth talking which reflects the  self-justifying Devil’s arguments. I think Hill perhaps gets closer to the paradox when he muses the even “Christians aren’t really sure what to do with him”(p 379) since both God and the Devil are after sinners. Perhaps it is a matter of perspective but Ig performs his role with a fiery vengeance.  Hill appears to explore both the idea of the devil as Other to justify an individual’s actions to the individual moving themselves into that role. The God game is changed since the supernatural comes from within.

Rather than being an external game, it is an internal one. The individual person is more powerful than the deities it would appear. Hill has a fair amount of fun with various depictions of the devil from the Bible to music, developing a notion of somebody who is desperate through rage and despair. Instead of trying to rationalise Ig’s actions, Hill explores somebody who is trying to get even when he is pushed outside, perhaps because he is pushed outside. I do wonder if the situation arises because Ig cannot move on, he is perpetually stuck through his own actions whilst his friends move on.

[updated to correct link]

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