Nell Barber, an expelled PhD candidate in Biological Science, is exploring the fine line between poison and antidote, working alone to set a speed record for the detoxification of poisonous plants. Her mentor, Dr. Joan Kallas, is the hero of Nell’s heart. Nell frequently finds herself standing in the doorway to Joan’s office despite herself, mesmerized by Joan’s elegance, success, and spiritual force.
Surrounded by Nell’s ex, her best friend, her best friend’s boyfriend, and Joan’s buffoonish husband, the two scientists are tangled together at the center of a web of illicit relationships, grudges, and obsessions. All six are burdened by desire and ambition, and as they collide on the university campus, their attractions set in motion a domino effect of affairs and heartbreak.
Meanwhile, Nell slowly fills her empty apartment with poisonous plants to study, and she begins to keep a series of notebooks, all dedicated to Joan. She logs her research and how she spends her days, but the notebooks ultimately become a painstaking map of love. In a dazzling and unforgettable voice, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight has written a spellbinding novel of emotional and intellectual intensity.
I was so intrigued by the cover and synopsis of Hex that I started reading it within days of it arriving in the post – not something that happens very often! It ended up being a quickish read – once I got into the flow of the storytelling I found I couldn’t put it down, mostly because I felt like if I kept reading I might be able to figure out what was going on haha!
This was one of those books where you finish and then wonder what you read but think that you probably enjoyed it. The style in which the story unfolds is not your traditional narrative – the entire book takes the form of almost manic scribblings/love letters, from our extremely unreliable protagonist Nell. To be completely honest I’m really not quit sure what happened in the end but for me the writing itself was good enough to forgive that. There was some really clever, and sometimes quite funny, prose throughout and I found myself enjoying the way that the words were put together.
I have seen this described as ‘dark camps fiction’ in the vein of The Secret History, but I think the unique narrative style makes this not the best comparison, and readers going in expecting something this might be disappointed. If you’re happy to go with the flow and appreciate some beautifully constructed prose, then Hex is an intriguing, clever, and (probably) enjoyable ride.
Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
Source: I received a free copy for review from Bloomsbury Australia (Thank you!). All views are my own.
Category: Contemporary adult fiction
Themes: love, obsession, relationships
Format: Paperback (204 pages)