The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Because it was Halloween on Wednesday I decided that I would mark the occasion in an appropriate fashion. Part of the previous week's library haul was The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. There seemed to be an unusual amount of hype about this book, until you realise that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, but what really persuaded me was that it came with enthusiastic comments, both on the book cover and his blog, by Neil Gaiman who, in my eyes, can do no wrong.

Now, I have to say at the outset that I think it was vastly over-hyped, but perhaps expectations are lower when we're talking horror novels? I don't read many, but some of those I have read have been excruciatingly badly written. I'm certainly not saying that's the case here, but it does read like a first novel. There is too much action and not enough explanation, and it is hard to fully engage with the characters.

It's about cynical, ageing rockstar Jude Coyne, who, disaffected and beyond the need to earn an income, decides to add to his collection of "noir" memorabilia by buying a ghost. I expect if Jude hadn't had an unhappy childhood (see American Gothic) he would have thought twice about the whole question, and, of course, when the ghost does show up, it turns out to be a set-up anyway. This ghost was all for him. A car chase ensues, with Jude, his girlfriend Georgia (he has the endearing habit of calling his goth girlfriends by their home state) and his two German Shepherds, fleeing south away from the ghost, who is rather handy with a razor. For about half the book I was hampered by the fact that only characters I liked were the dogs, but things did look up a bit towards the end.

It's not possible to say much about the plot without giving anything away, but unhappy childhoods do feature. There's not much explanation offered for them, some folks is just mean, I guess. The action has too much gore for my taste, but it doesn't really make you care much. Pacing is better, it's a fairly quick read anyway but, because so much is action, you do find yourself turning over just one more page. On the other hand, if someone had taken it away when I was half-way through, I am not sure I would have been desperate to finish it.

I did like the relatively leisured ending, which reminded me of Gaiman's writing, as did some earlier moments, and I wondered whether that was why Gaiman had been so positive about it. My response is distinctly lukewarm but maybe this is one for horror fans only?


  1. I was thinking about reading this one but now I'm not so sure...

  2. Oh dear, I don't like putting people off books! But it was rather a disappointment, sort of Gaiman-lite. I thought afterwards that I should have read Fragile Things instead.


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