‘Hex’ by Thomas Olde Heuvelt or curses are just a matter of perspective…

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After provoking her so, I had to find some way to contain her!

After so thoroughly enjoying ‘My Best Friends Exorcism’, I didn’t think it possible that any other recent entrant into the horror canon could possibly measure up. Admittedly, I am a hard customer to please. The ability of such books to scare, has been somewhat blunted by persistent exposure. That withstanding the excellence of MBFE, I thought, would completely overshadow any competitors. Little did I know that it would be me that would be overshadowed. By dark and menacing images. And unsettling thoughts. The kind that stop you sleeping….

If, like me, you frequent Twitter and Instagram to connect with fellow bookworms then ‘Hex’ will already have been planted in your subconscious mind. Thanks to some very clever marketing (hands up who doesn’t wish they had been graced with the proof copy, resplendent with needle and thread) and a savvy author that knows how to connect with his audience, this book will have been on the literary radar of many, for quite some time. I admit that this hype swept me along and I also admit wondering whether said hype would result in disappointment (as sometimes it does). Luckily, ‘Hex’: exceeds all expectation and supplants itself ominently in the minds eye of sacrificial readers, like myself.

Hex begins innocently enough. Our sympathies fully aligned with the teens of Black Spring ( once we untwist our minds from the confusing introductory paragraphs that force us to reread and resettle our understanding over). In an act of great mental distortion, the Black Spring Witch is introduced as a character being run over by an antique Dutch barrel organ. While this disturbing image assaults us, we are forced to confront illusion and question what reality is right from the outset. I should have paid more attention, as important clues were there to see, right from the first page. Instead my confusion barrelled me forward from this sensory assault, aligning me with the emerging distrust of the youth- despite it manifesting as an ugly outpouring via their secretive (and ironic) OPEN YOUR EYES social media project.
The story continues, riddled with injustices and sadness. Probing actions and consequences. All the while our fears are heightened and exploited. Imagine being confined to life in Black Spring forever more (horror). Imagine a decaying, malevolent, eyes stitched shut, resurrected witch appearing and hovering at will wherever she feels like. Even the thought of that, in the corner of your bedroom, is enough terror for anyone to endure. No dishcloth can cover that indelible stain! Not knowing what she is thinking, or planning, or muttering is unbearable. No wonder Tyler and his merry band of mischief makers wish to provoke and explore the restrictive boundaries she holds over their lives..

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There is no escape from the opening of her eyes…

Yet, at what cost? For one Owls and Peacocks are now infused with malevolence. Woods are not serene and peaceful. Books can contain untold menace. The Internet, cameras and social media are poor imitators of order and control. Some things are beyond control. We are not safe. Our behaviours have untold consequences. Especially when we do no consider the motivations or influences of others.

Don’t read this book, take up sewing instead!

I have said too much.

Rest forever disturbed, it is my duty to pass this curse on to you: I hope you are ready for the malign influences of Katherine van Wyler….

‘The Seed Collectors’ by Scarlett Thomas or be careful where you plant things

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Are we all just propagation?  Or is there some higher meaning that eludes us on our journeys through life?

Scarlett Thomas, I salute you! I salute your mastery of our lexicon. I salute your dedication to the research process. I salute the big questions your books always ask. I salute your evolving and exploratory approach to your writing. I salute your storytelling skills! If writing stories was my talent, I would be learning from the best at the University of Kent.

Thankfully, you are writing the sort of stories I long to read. Ever since being mesmerised by ‘The End of Mr Y’, I have been savouring your works and recommending them to everyone and anyone: including my Mother. How often, as an adult, do you read a book in which your imagination is so ignited that you actually feel it with all of your senses? The pages literally fizzed and the edges faded into a brown, circular vortex- transporting me (via some sort of literary black- hole akin to the tunnel Alice enters wonderland via) to the troposphere. It is a rare and accomplished masterpiece. ‘Pop Co’ asked big questions about the way our consumerist, capitalist monstrosity of a society operates without losing an inch of the narrative pace it’s gripping plot presented. The non-story approach of ‘Our Tragic Universe’ delighted me in its delivery and in the way it framed questions about the meaning our lives hold: is everything meaningless in the end? While all of these books are unique, they share a sense of mystery and intrigue, an ability to expose us to new concepts and philosophies that challenge us as readers and leave us ruminating for a long time afterwards: they all delight. You always have something valid to say and you say it well.

While ‘The Seed Collectors’ is of course different to your preceding works (as of course it would be) it does not disappoint. It’s narrative flow reminded me a little of Woolf and her ‘stream of consciousness’ approach, something that really frees the writing up and allows you to deliver your meaning more effortlessly. Your study of ethnobotany infuses your writing on many levels. I am in awe of the many unusual and unexpected characteristics that plants manifest, in their battle to survive and how their deployment mirrors the human need to survive or perfect themselves as writ large in the vanishing nature of your generational protagonists. You do not shy away from exploring primal or base desires in your characters, despite the fact this may repel the audience- yet when you consider this more deeply, it mirrors the need we have to reproduce and propagate, which plants do unashamedly. Is the walking palm really so different to Charlie Gardner? Both are adapting to the challenges that are thrown their way.

Yet where plants are purely primal, the boundary that is created in contrast to human motivation is where the greatest opportunity for rumination occurs. In stages, the novel explores the secrets that all the characters hold: the private drives and insecurities that they manifest in their own destructive ways, instead allow us to transcend our human existence and consider even bigger questions relating to spirituality and enlightenment. This is tightly mirrored in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the parents of the main protagonists and their quest for a pod of magical propensities.

This exploration of enlightenment blew my mind all the more, in light of the synchronicity it threw upon my own current experiences. A friend recently felt compelled to purchase us both a book, despite it creeping her out for reasons unfathomable: ‘The Autobiography of a Yogi’. She felt it was something to do with my deceased Gramphs- made all the more uncanny by the fact it was a book I had been thinking about, of his that I had perused many years before, one that felt like it spoke with some omnipresent voice in its exploration of enlightenment and had forgotten even what it was called.To my furtive imagination, this book feels like a gift from the other side: a focus from the most enlightened person I have ever encountered. I can imagine my yoga loving, Transendental Meditational Gramphs whispering ‘read this girl, it will put you on the right path’. Imagine the resonance then, of being stuck at the point of Yoganada’s work that states that life is an illusion (a maya), a prison of your own making that you must see beyond in order to reach enlightenment and immortality (not being distracted by the material world) when reading ‘The Seed Collectors’. Perhaps these books are my own mysterious pod, indeed missing manuscript and the key to my own enlightenment!

Perhaps I do have a story in me after all… An imperfect girl finding her way in an imperfect world, just like the Gardners. Namaste