#31 “NOS4R2” by Joe Hill

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  1. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  2. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  3. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  4. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  5. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  6. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  7. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  8. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  9. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  10. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  11. Hades – Candice Fox
  12. Eden – Candice Fox
  13. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  14. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  15. The Maze Runner – James Dashner
  16. The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
  17. The Death Cure – James Dashner
  18. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby
  19. More Than This – Patrick Ness
  20. Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead – Rebecca James
  21. Solitaire – Alice Oseman
  22. Trouble – Non Pratt
  23. The Rose Project – Graeme Simsion
  24. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al

I bought NOS4R2 with a birthday book voucher.

Eight months ago.

There are no rules when it comes to my TBR pile.

Anyways, this book followed me in every book shop I went into. The creepy cover leered at me from amid John Green books and books about various sports people.

Speaking of sports people, RIP Phillip Hughes. Our thoughts are with your friends and family. And also with Sean Abbott. I can’t even imagine what that poor man is going through.

I’d only been stalked by a few books, and so I followed my usual protocol for this situation: buy the damn thing. After reading the blurb of course.
Now, we all know that blurbs can be misleading. Some of the time it seems like the cover editors got the blurbs of a few books mixed up or something. But in my case, the blurb was spot on, I had just read it wrong. I thought I was being brave in choosing a gothic horror. Not only was the book totally out of my usual genres of YA and/or fantasy, but it was smack bang in the middle of a genre that I hardly ever read. In fact, a genre that I actively try to avoid: horror.

But it turned out that NOS4R2 was fantasy, just with a twist of gothic and a dash of horror. How I got the blurb so wrong, I have no idea.

Is this not the most disturbing kids’ drawing that you’ve ever seen?

I should not have  read this book so close to Christmas. Somehow Joe Hill managed to take my favourite holiday of the entire year and make it creepy. No, he made it terrifying. Not in the way Doctor Who tried to make Christmas scary with the animatronic Santas and the killer Christmas trees, but through the idea of Christmas as a time to be joyful. The antagonist in this story, Charlie Talent Manx (whose name sounds a little like Charles Manson, don’t you think?) picks kids from miserable homes and takes them to this magical place called Christmasland in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. He claims to be saving them by taking them to a place where they will never be unhappy again.

Wow, what a guy, you think. Nope.
Wrong.
The misery of these kids is syphoned off into Manx to grant him youth and extended life. Manx gets younger and the kids get weird. They find pleasure in everything. How can this possibly be a bad thing? Well, just check this out:

Wayne felt the metal head of the hammer against his hip and looked at it and thought, Maybe. Take the hammer and bring it down on the top of his father’s head. When Wayne imagined the sound it would make – the deep, hollow knock of steel against bone – he tingled with pleasure.

After Manx is done with the kids, even the disturbing things are fun. And this is why Joe Hill is a genius. He somehow manages to convey the hollowness of a Christmas without meaning in this entirely new, grotesque way. Christmas should always have meaning (if you celebrate it), whether you believe in the original story or not, and I feel like this is what Hill is trying to convey.

“I guess I must’ve been thinking about something fun.”
“Something fun? Or something good?” New Lou asked, watching him with his curious New Lou eyes – inquisitive and bright. “Because they aren’t always the same.”

NOS4R2 covers a lot within its almost 700 pages. We get so many points of view. There’s Manx, Manx’s mentally-challenged assistant Bing, Vic McQueen (the only kid to every escape Manx), Maggie the helpful librarian, Wayne, and a few police officers. I kind of love the fact that multi-POV stories are back in fashion now. Stories can feel so contrived when only the one character is telling the story. I mean, how often does one person get the full story? Hardly ever. And so having multiple POVs makes the information delivery process all the more natural.

There’s the theme of family too. Vic McQueen had a disappointing childhood and we see her grow up and provide a fairly disappointing childhood for her own child. It’s this strange circle-of-life thing that really intrigued me. Almost as much as Hill’s weaving together psychology and magic intrigued me. McQueen was able to use this magic (well, that’s the best word I can think of) bridge to find lost things. As a child she never questioned this, but as she grew up, she let the knowledge of this bridge drive her to literal madness. There are huge chunks of the book where we start to believe that McQueen hallucinated everything, even though we know that she didn’t.
There are also huge chunks of the book where we see Manx through Bing’s eyes and start believing that maybe Manx isn’t such a bad guy. Hill somehow manages to suspend our disbelief while we have already suspended our disbelief about seventeen times previously. Being able to distract us from the already established facts in the book was an incredible undertaking and one that I wholeheartedly  admire. When I felt myself feeling sorry for Manx or believing McQueen’s psychological diagnosis, I actually had to shake myself and remember all that I had read. Hill has some serious skill.

Another marvellous thing about this book is the fact that Hill was not afraid to kill off major characters. I am not going to say who or how or when but keep in mind while reading this story, one of the big personalities does die. I was in no way prepared for it. Maybe because in all of the books I read, I always know that the main characters will be OK in the end.

Hill also gives us fundamentally flawed characters. Not in the way YA does. These characters are seriously fucked up. Most of them have serious issues that are harmful in one way or another, even the good guys. But we love them any way. Well, not Manx and Bing, but we understand those guys. They aren’t simply evil. We get inside their heads. And our good guys are shown through a flickering spotlight. Yes, they are our heroes but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own demons. Not one single character in this book is in anyway perfect. And that’s what makes them flawless.

NOS4R2 has a little bit of everything, including just enough horror to keep you on the edge of your seat. I was never given nightmares, but there were passages that stayed with me hours after I put the book down. This book is not a comfortable read, but it is beautifully put together.

Just maybe wait until all the Christmas decorations have been put away, and all the Christmas carols have stopped playing, before you dive in.

★★★★

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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2 Responses to #31 “NOS4R2” by Joe Hill

  1. Pingback: Fresh Faces of 2014 | My Infernal Imagination

  2. Pingback: End of 2014 Book Survey | My Infernal Imagination

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