Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex is the scariest book I’ve ever read. Hex was so scary that when I was reading it in bed, I got too frightened to continue and also had to walk around the upstairs of my apartment checking the closets for bad guys/ghosts/monsters. Hex was so scary that I thereafter stopped reading it before bed and only read it during my commute.

Hex

The basic premise seemed fine. There’s this town called Black Spring where once upon a time a woman called Katherine was forced to murder her own son, then hanged as a witch. Her ghost has haunted the town ever since, and her whispers have driven thousands to suicide. The residents of Black Spring have learned to live with her, and with the brutal penalties they would face if they ever broke the town’s rules. But a group of teenagers is determined to bring proof of Katherine’s existence to the outside world.

This does not go swimmingly.

I read a review of Hex that pointed out horror stories often depend, for their oomph, on what we don’t know; whereas in Hex, we know from moment one what this town’s horrors are and where they came from. Hex isn’t scary because of Katherine. Well, it is scary because of Katherine. But the oomph of the story isn’t that we don’t know what Katherine will do; it’s that we don’t know what the townspeople will do. At first we think that we only need to worry about one of Tyler’s friends, the kid from a broken home, the slightly unstable one. Or we only need to worry about this stern-faced Colton Mathers guy on the town council.

The true horror, of course, is that we have to worry about everyone. A well-intentioned action by a character we have been asked to like and identify with can lead to “The Lottery”-esque outcomes. When that happens with over a third of the book left to go, it’s scary as hell because what else might be coming?

I’ll note that women have very little to do in this book (even Katherine mostly just stands around being scary), and there’s the occasional weird gendered moment in this book, particularly w/r/t boobs. Since I was enjoying the book so much (slash, being terrified out of my wits by it), I was able to roll my eyes and skate past it, but your mileage may vary.

Interestingly, Hex was substantially revised for its American publication, shifting the action from the Netherlands to America and just changing a whole massive bunch of things about it. Here’s Heuvelt on that decision. If you are a Dutch reader, may I politely request that you read the Dutch edition and report back to me on what the original ending was? I am near-dead of curiosity, and the internet has been of no use at all.

  • Wow, I got scared just reading your review! LOL I don’t think I could handle the actual book!

  • Oooh! This sounds amazing. Did you read WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon. It scared me!

    • Did I? I don’t think so. I read Jennifer McMahon’s most recent book, and liked it a lot, so I do want to go back and explore her backlist!

  • Caroline

    Finally – would you belive it, I’m able to comment on your blog. Disqus grrrrr.
    Yes, sounds scary. I’m in the mood for scary these days so I might give this one a try.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Wow, so if this book scared you that much I definitely can’t read it because books like that give me nightmares. I enjoyed your post and I will have to be happy with that even though I admit I am really curious.

    • Hahaha, well, let me be fair and say that I rarely read horror. So “the scariest book I’ve ever read” isn’t THAT high of a bar to clear.

  • It’s funny, I had a very similar reaction, except that I couldn’t skate past the woman problem and ended up not really enjoying it. (To be fair, I read a decent amount of horror, and found this to be good horror, but that’s not a very rare beast in my life. And I did get two blog posts out of it.)

    But I, too, definitely want to know the Dutch ending!

    • Very fair! The women stuff was NOT GREAT, and I can imagine that if I’d been in a different mood it would have really bothered me.

  • Alley

    Oh man oh man oh man, this sounds super good (despite the problems with women in it). I very much would like to read it and then ALSO would like to know about this other Dutch ending.

    • WATCH THIS SPACE. I will be updating with information about the Dutch ending, as a kindly commenter is reading the Dutch version and has promised to report back.

      • Alley

        Yesssssssss OK must read book soon so I can then read the follow up with Dutch ending

  • A book ending that’s not on the Internet?? Surely that isn’t true

    • It’s probably on the internet somewhere, right? But I ran out of patience for hunting for it before I was able to make the internet cough it up. The good news is, a faithful commenter is reading the Dutch version and has promised to come back and tell me what happens.

      • Nishita

        @readingtheend:disqus it’s probably on the Internet in Dutch 🙂

  • Reading the Dutch version now! I didn’t read your review at first (I don’t read the end first…) and was wondering, while reading, how this would be for American readers because the setting is just so… Dutch. The village is like all the villages my parents used to drag me to on vacation. I will report back 🙂

    • EXCELLENT, oh man. I am very excited to hear what the Dutch ending is.

      • Okay. So. The ending! MASSIVE SPOILERS ALL AROUND of course.
        This is slightly complicated, since apparently he’s changed the names, as well?

        The ending is kind of long, I’d say it starts when the youngest son is admitted. But skipping to the end of the ending: it turns into into an orgy of torture like an Hieronymus Bosch painting of Hell. This is, of course, imagery we are all more or less familiar with over here, since the guy was Dutch and we all learned about him in
        school. Nice echo of the ‘just a village like all those you know so well’-horror trope.

        The dad is led through all these horrors and recognizes each of them as a mirror image of things the villagers did
        to the witch (I thought this was a bit far fetched at times, your mileage may vary). In the end, he realises that he must choose the thing he loves most. He runs between dozens of pot holes filled with people while it rains burning coals, carrying a single pot hole cover, finds wife + youngest son but jumps in the seemingly empty hole next to them, because we’ve know which son he would choose since chapter two or so.

        He then wakes up in his own house to someone thumping the front door, and doesn’t open it, because he knows that even if it is the person he wants it to be, it wouldn’t end well.

        And then the author apologizes for throwing us into a pit of despair.

        • James Hinton

          Thanks for this, it’s about the only place I’ve been able to find what the original ending was. It sounds like it’s the same as the western version in spirit, but the details are different.

          There’s no author apology though.

  • Nishita

    Your opening sentence made me almost too scared to read your review! Also now I am really curious to know what was the woman thing in the book.

    Great review!

  • Whoa I am now wondering if I need to read this book in broad daylight in a crowded cafe! Also, I didn’t know they were nearly as bad with regard to books as with tv shows in the US! Am a bit gobsmacked, I mean if white European settings are already too much… 🙁 But thanks for the warning I will see that I get a Dutch copy 🙂

  • I could only skim the review with my eyes half open, so I think the book would be WAY too scary for me. I did find that piece about the changes for the American version fascinating though. Translation to the max!

  • Rachel

    Yay! I’ve been looking to read a scary book and this sounds good. I usually can tolerate horror films better than books, but I’ll give it a shot! I’ll just have to read it in broad daylight, lol.

  • I hardly ever read scary novels, but when I do, I want them to be really scary. So, this sounds like an excellent candidate! And, I’ll have to come back to see what Anna has to say about the Dutch ending…. Any idea why they would have changed the ending?

  • I’m so rubbish with scary books, but I love the idea of a book where you know what the scary thing is and the plot is about trying to escape that. I’ve had dreams like that. Would it be asking for spoilers if I asked what scared you about parts?

  • Re: the gender stuff, I’ve sort of backburnered HEX on the great list of Books I May Someday Read because his Hugo-nominated story, “The Day the World Turned Upside Down,” was fabulous until the very end, when the narrator has a hissy fit because he thought his ex-girlfriend owed him for doing something she never asked him to do all and her social cues should’ve told him she didn’t want him to do. And I felt like the text came down on his side. It was gross.

    Re: the setting change stuff, knowing he Americanized it bumps it even further back on my list of Books I May Someday Read. I get where he’s coming from, but I’d much rather read a scary Dutch book from a Dutch person than a scary Americanized book from a non-American of any nationality. I get too frickin’ much of that as a matter of course.

  • Read Diverse Books

    Jenny, were you truly and genuinely frightened? Because I am desperately looking for a book that will scare me. I have always liked thrillers and horror, especially as a teen when I was frightened more easily. But now almost nothing scares me, not TV or film and especially not books.

    This one sounds really interesting. What happened to Katherine was brutal, but I’m kind of glad this is a story about a woman who haunts a town. Hauntings are my favorite and they’re better when the haunting goes beyond 1 house!

    • I have the same problem, Naz, though mine is just with books. TV/film scare me just fine, but I can’t seem to get sincerely creeped out in the same way by literature. One book of short stories, Probably Monsters by Ray Cluley, is the only one that’s genuinely gotten to me. There were also points when I was listening to IT by Stephen King in an empty apartment and, like Jenny, had to roam around looking for any stray murderous clowns. That’s bout it, though.

      In any case, let me know if you find anything good!

    • Monika Lain

      Have you read The Bird Box? That one haunted me for a long time. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18498558-bird-box

  • I don’t really go for horror, but a book where the people are the scary part sounds fascinating. Great review!

  • I read a lackluster review of HEX and took it off my possibilities list, but it seems like it went well for you! I do love the idea of a book that’s intensely scary with that much left to go in the story.

  • Nita Satikuwar

    Didn’t like it. was not scary at all

  • Krista

    Loved it … what a fantastically scary book. Curious on the Dutch ending still though too and have researched but only found this short description on it .. http://valsrandomcomments.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/hex-thomas-olde-heuvelt.html