Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

19 December, 2010

Wow, I didn’t expect this book to be scary. Silly me, considering Joe Hill is horror-meister Stephen King’s son. I’d been curious of Heart-Shaped Box since its publication in 2007 and especially given Hill’s lineage. I’ve probably only read a handful of Stephen King’s novels and watched some of the films based on his books (I’m probably the last person on earth who hasn’t seen Kubrik’s The Shining.) But what I’ve read I’ve liked. It’s just that I don’t read much horror.

In Heart-Shaped Box, Hill introduces us to Judas Cowyn, the sole surviving member of his rock group. He’s rich, he’s worshiped by a legion of fans and he’s got an endless supply of young girlfriends. He’s also been running away from his unhappy childhood for the past forty years. One day he buys a ghost on the internet to add to his collection of grisly and spooky objects. What arrives is a dead man’s suit, together with his ghost, in a heart-shaped box. A malevolent and revenge-driven ghost that will haunt and terrify Jude and everyone around him.

Such a simple story yet Hill turns it into a relentless, fast-paced and frightening thriller, all the while managing to create fully-formed characters.

I’m normally not tickled by having a grizzled rocker with an extremely young ex-stripper as a girlfriend for the protagonist. All this macho bullshit normally turns me off and I tend to steer clear of them. But Hill does the unthinkable and actually created a protagonist who I liked. A lot. He may be grizzled and trying to reclaim his youth by rotating ever younger girlfriends, but there is something touching and real about him. Jude knows who he is and he’s tired of pretending to be someone else. The character of his girlfriend Georgia also grew on me as I read. What I thought was just a damaged, ex-stripper, turned out to be a strong, resilient and lovely woman. And you really start to care about what will happen to them. That’s a sign of a good writer.

And in Craddock, Hill has created a truly frightening spirit. One that is evil through and through with no redeeming features even after death. I guarantee he will scare the living bejesus out of you. I kept reading this at night before going to sleep and could only read about 10 pages at a time because, well, it was dark and I was going to switch off the light and sleep. Not a good time to read this book unless you want to be scared.

For a first novel, Heart-Shaped Box has a very clear and assured voice. It surprised me, somewhat. It’s as though Hill didn’t need to be cocky or try too hard, because he really does have talent.

I’m looking forward to reading his next novel, Horns. I’ll just have to check first whether it’s scary;P

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13 Responses to “Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill”

  1. Eva Says:

    This one impressed me too (and I was surprised at how scary it was)! I ended up abandoning Horns after the first chapter, though. Twentieth Century Ghosts had some really creepy stories in it.


  2. I didn’t realise that Stephen King’s son was now writing books. I’m a bit scared to try something so scary, but thanks for letting me know who Joe Hill is 🙂

  3. Teresa Says:

    This scared me a lot more than anything I’ve read by Stephen King. It was actually too scary for me, I think. I almost gave up on it because I was too scared! But I actually think that shows how good Joe Hill is, even if it makes me reluctant to pick up another of his books.

  4. FleurFisher Says:

    I’ve had this in my TBR for a while, and I was wondering why I’d bought it. Now you’ve sold it and I shall be pulling it out before too long. Thank you!

  5. novelinsights Says:

    I like scary books and I’d be definitely interested in reading this. One for the TBR methinks!

  6. gaskella Says:

    I read this when it first came out and remember enjoying it, although it was before I blogged and I only wrote a one-line review in my spreadsheet – “A suitably gory debut from Stephen King’s son.” – so no help there then!


  7. I was surprised, too, at my degree of attachment to the characters as the story spun along. And, yes, decidedly scary.

  8. Nymeth Says:

    This book surprised me as well. I wasn’t expecting it to be so character-oriented, for example. Of course, that only made me enjoy it more.

  9. amymckie Says:

    I really liked this one too! It was a bit scary and creepy too wasn’t it 🙂

  10. Care Says:

    My first thought when I saw the title of this post was, “OOO! Scary!” and then had to laugh at your first sentence. 🙂 You have me very intrigued.

  11. chasing bawa Says:

    Eva: Why haven’t I heard of ’20th Century Ghosts’? And it’s short stories too! Thanks for letting me know. I’m curious to know why you couldn’t finish ‘Horns’. Is it very different from his other work?

    Jackie: You could do what I did with ‘The Woman in Black’ and read it during the daytime;P

    Teresa: It was really scary, wasn’t it? It seems looking at all the comments that we weren’t the only ones!

    FleurFisher: I’ll check back to see what you thought of it. Enjoy being creeped out!

    novelinsights: Yay! Let Mt. TBR increase!

    gaskella: Have you read anything else by him? I’ll have to check your blog!

    Buried in Print: I really didn’t expect to like the characters so much. Hill really did a wonderful job both with the characters and the creepy plot.

    Nymeth: It looks like everyone was surprised at how much they liked this book (especially because of the characters) plus how scary it was. Amazing for a debut.

    amymckie: Definitely creepy. And I’m really glad you enjoyed it too. I’m giving a copy to my best friend for Christmas and also gave one to my brother-in-law!

    Care: Read it!:)

  12. savidgereads Says:

    I think I have this on the TBR (unless I gave it away which will make me very cross if I have and have to rush to the library) and now after reading this I might have to get it up to the top of the TBR pronto!


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