Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.
The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.
One of the most impressive things about Hex is that the original version was written in Dutch, and for the North American/UK release of the novel, author Thomas Olde Heuvelt decided to revise the novel and Americanize it—and while I haven’t read the Dutch version (I don’t, unfortunately, have any familiarity with the language), I can say that this version of Hex worked for me.
In this interview from Rue Morgue, the author had this to say about both versions of Hex:
The original Dutch edition was set in an existing small town in The Netherlands. It’s the town of Beek, in the east of the country, in the hills near the German border. My grandmother used to live there, and I always thought: if there’s any place in a country so densely populated and neatly cultivated as The Netherlands where something like this could happen, it’s here. Even more so: Beek has a history of witchcraft persecutions and hangings that goes back to the middle ages and is still visible today. The woods around the town are gloomy. There are witch-references in the naming of places and streams. They even have an annual ritual at Carnival, where they hang a big straw witch doll from the town hall, and after the festivities, they burn it. (And believe it or not: I did *not* know that when I wrote the wicker burning scene in HEX, which was a perfect and very creepy coincidence). The English edition, however, is set in Black Spring, New York. You could say it’s a remake from the Dutch original, and Black Spring is based on the town of Beek (the early settlers called it “New Beeck” for obvious reasons). For me as a writer, it was a fantastic challenge to see if I could pull it off to make the book work in a totally new, culturally different environment. Plus, it was an excuse to revisit the town, the characters and the storylines that I loved so much, and spend some more time with them without having to fall in the trap of a sequel. The Dutch ‘soul’ of the book I kept very much alive during the process.
I enjoyed Hex. While this is a horror, there were also several humorous passages that made me laugh, and the horror deepened in intensity in a way that really worked for me. Aside from one scene of extreme violence (which I flipped over, as I don’t like reading stuff like that—lucky for me I wasn’t listening to the audio version—and which was necessary for the narrative rather than gratuitous) the violence was more muted than anything, which is another thing I appreciate in a horror novel. It seems to me it takes far more skill to build that horror feeling in a novel without using a lot of graphic violence, and that’s something the author does well.
The Dutch version has a different ending, and I’m rather curious about the difference, although I did enjoy the ending of the version I read: it was rather bittersweet, which is unexpected in a horror novel.