Author: Joe Hill
Summary (from Goodreads)
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
I don’t much like horror films, but I’m okay with books – it takes quite a lot for a horror book to get under my skin in the same way as a film does. There are a few books that have managed it (notably IT by Stephen King) and NOS4R2 is to be added to that prestigious few.
I don’t even really know why it was so creepy, because it wasn’t particularly – a lot of time was dedicated to stuff that wasn’t all that scary. Important, yes, and gripping, but not really terrifying. But there was something about the story that really crept under my skin and set my nerve ends crawling.
It helped that there was a thing with teeth – the children that Charles Manx kidnaps lose their teeth and they’re replaced with sharp rows of hooks. Teeth freak me out, and the way it was described, the kidnapped child pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth and feeling bumps there, and then his teeth pulling free – it did have me squirming in my seat.
But mostly I think it was the idea of Charles Manx and his car slowly sucking something out of the children imprisoned there, and the way it was so perfectly illustrated via Vic’s son, Wayne. The way he gradually transformed from a kind, loving boy to almost monstrous was horrific, and just brilliantly done. It leant a real urgency to the ‘ticking clock’ of the second half of the story, and I was chewing anxiously on my nails as I listened, hoping that Vic would get to Wayne before it was too late.
I think the fact that it was so easy – and understandable – for the other characters to believe Vic was crazy was another thing that made it so frightening. The thought of being so utterly helpless in the face of your child’s kidnap is enough to make me uncomfortable, and I don’t even have children. Her lack of control over her own faculties – humming christmas songs without realising it, drawing pictures of children frozen beneath ice – makes the thought of her ultimate victory uncomfortably shaky. You genuinely start to believe that she can’t succeed, further adding to the tension.
I really loved this, and I will definitely be picking up more of Joe Hill’s stuff if I see it. I loved Horns too, but hadn’t really thought to check out the rest of his catalogue since then. NOS4R2 has definitely put him back on my radar – thanks to Fran at House of Blog for picking it as this month’s book club read. And to Carole Heidi for suggesting it 😉