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


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..


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….


‘A Mad and Wonderful Thing’ by Mark Mulholland or is all fair in love and war?


I came to this novel full of curiosity and a sense of longing, having read the blurb and seeing that it featured a young and bookish Irish man, full of passion yet hiding a dark other side in which he masquerades as an IRA sniper. While such contrasts of course are of great interest to me as a reader (I am fascinated by what motivates people and how they end up where they do) it was actually the tentative glimpse towards  my long dead grandfather, that certain aspects of this novel seemed to cover that really intrigued me. While I am not suggesting he was an IRA sniper, I do know that he was a very quiet, bookish man who passed away when my mother was a young girl- thus remaining mysterious and enigmatic as we try to piece together our understanding of a man that died over 50 years ago. Clearly he was An Irish emigre, and clearly he came from an era in which the troubles Ireland have faced must have influenced his decision to move to the UK? What did he experience? What were his opinions? While I know that a book cannot possibly speak for a person, I do know that they can offer snap shots and pointers: something I was interested to explore in this novel. This, then was the particular baggage that I brought to the reading of this text.

And what a text! It is complex and rich. It explores uncomfortable questions and leaves you to examine all of the viewpoints it puts forth; to reach your own conclusions about the decisions that Johnny Connolly makes and the representation they put forth regarding Irish troubles (and really the troubles that occupation and war bring in any nation). This novel is full of scars, that are ripped wide open so that you may explore their painful and horrifying realities: no matter how uncomfortable. Although the subject matter differs wildly, to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, it shares it’s clever approach to its dark subject matter in that it places judgement firmly within the readers hands. That and that it is a love story (Johnny and Cora, and towards Ireland). This is a brave and clever choice, something that allows us to move beyond black and white into the complexities of grey. If we are to understand and learn from Johnny’s experiences (or indeed from any young, angry person that wishes to avenge oppression, brutality or occupation) then we must pay close attention. Though the reasoning may differ, the motivations must have a universality to them.

Interestingly, Mulholland does have the foresight to locate Johnny’s personal struggles against historic ones- namely Nazi Germany. How could such horrors happen?  Ask the teachers, doctors, solicitors etc. Indeed, it is his old teacher that I remain most horrified with- responsible for recruiting and corrupting a vulnerable and impressionable 12 year old boy. Makes you really think about similar corruptions going on in other struggles and how the weak manipulate those who have not yet matured and lack true insight into carrying out their bidding, without true understanding of consequences.

There are many bleak moments in this novel, they come early and come fast- unlike ‘One Day’ by Nicholls our trauma at tragedy is just the beginning. Instead we get to truly see what happens next and how much further Johnny can spiral. It is an emotional, gut wrenching read. The love he feels for Cora and for his Ireland are palpable. You can feel them too, in all their glory. I feel that this novel helped me understand the beauty of this country, so linked to me yet not fully understood. I also got to understand the complexities of Johnny’s choices- alarmingly, I found that I really liked him and could perhaps negate some of the horrific violence he propagates. Johnny is kind to his family, so he can’t be a bad person. Yet he does bad things. Perhaps this was the writers point. This is how easily people turn a blind eye. It certainly made me sit up and think more deeply and realise that people are as complex as their reasoning is illogical, at times.

To me, though, the biggest gift of this novel was in both the beauty of its crafting and it’s ability to weave metaphors throughout the heart of this story (and heart is what it all boils down to). It is worth reading just for the mountain metaphor alone, in the great wisdom it imparts. We all begin at the bottom, and we must climb its arduous path overcoming obstacle, despite not knowing what we may reach. We must find ropes (or guiding lights) in the form of inspiring/ encouraging people or ideas. We must always do everything with heart. In this way we can see Johnny’s struggles as representing Ireland’s struggles and you hope that it has reached the top of the mountain (and that others struggling may do so too).

So while I sought some understanding of my grandfather, instead I gained some understanding of how and why people struggle with dark decisions. How they can justify violence, in the name of some warring cause. While it may not be my path, it is a path that keeps being trodden. It is a complex one that involves interplay between different sides. It is not black (like the portentous fox that foreshadows the first trouble) or white, but complex grey. So thank you, Mark Mulholland, for tackling such an important subject and giving me pause. I hope that others are given pause, too and instead consider how such a situation/ action is born before reducing it into unhelpful judgements. If they only realised, novels can hold the key to unlocking deeper understanding of such matters.