Horns by Joe Hill – Review

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“I guess Satan was the first superhero. In his first adventure, he took the form of a snake to free two prisoners being held naked in a Third World jungle prison by an all-powerful megalomaniac. At the same time, he broadened their diet and introduced them to their own sexuality.”

A young man named Ig is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend; after a year of depression, one morning he wakes up with horns pricking out of his head, forced to hear everyone he meets confess their greatest sins. Snakes like him a lot, and he keeps wanting to wield a pitchfork.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

For a book with such a potentially goofy premise, it’s a relief that an unblinking fascination with the nature of sin fuels Joe Hill’s Horns, an unflinching view of human urges and morals. Its twisted sense of humour makes all of it a fuckload of fun, too.

Demons are often more fascinating than angels, and watching a good man turn very, very bad is deeply absorbing to read about. In our time of entertainment in the mainstream loving muddled-motives and monstrous acts by protagonists (think Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, and compare them to classic tv heroes) sympathy for the devil comes easier. I suppose that might have been true for centuries, though, ever since Milton cemented Lucifer as the ultimate anti-hero: a rebel who chose freedom and sin over paradise.

Hill is good at describing the inner workings that push humans along, the strange motivations that make us individuals. He moves the reader into a dirty territory, and makes you both wince and wonder simultaneously. Just how far can a good person be pushed? The line between sin and mistake, and what we can forgive, is presented by Hill as something inherently fluid; understanding the motives of the people around can create both empathy or anger, and which you choose to focus on will determine how clearly you view the world through the tinted lens of personal prejudices.

Put some Rolling Stones on in the background and pick up Horns, and be ready for a blazing-fun LSD-fueled car ride through the gates of hell.