Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight review: darkly comic, loopy and bewitching

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Novelist Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
Novelist Rebecca Dinerstein Knight Credit: Nina Subin

538prom精品视频在线播放At the start of Hex, the second novel from the Brooklyn-dwelling Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, Nell, a PhD botanist, is expelled from Columbia after a fellow student poisons herself in their lab.

538prom精品视频在线播放Nell leaves with some smuggled seeds, resolved to continue their work to detoxify plant-based poisons. She laments her separation from her supervisor, the cold and elegant (and wonderfully unsexily named) Joan, with whom Nell is all-consumingly obsessed, and to whom the narrative is addressed. "The biggest loss is you: my chime, my floorboard. You are my night milk," she writes, in the first series of ever-more-mad metaphors for Joan.

538prom精品视频在线播放Their relationship, rather than the poisonous plants, is the main source of toxicity in this delightfully odd pastiche of courtly love: Joan, the unobtainable object of her devotion, Nell, the solipsistic lover worshipping in academic exile. When Nell’s ex-boyfriend (who Joan starts sleeping with) asks what the deal is, Nell responds, "I like to know her, I like to please her, I would report the weather to Joan if I could." Better still is her reminiscence of those early days of infatuation: "on certain summer nights, as the city teemed with humidity and odor, I thought it might be pleasant to be one layer of uncolored nail polish lying in rest over your fingernails."

There’s something earthy and animal about Nell – she eats with her fingers, sleeps on the floor in an apartment filled with soil. She portrays herself as a loner – despite having a group of exceptionally good-looking, fellow-academic friends. They, too, get sucked into the "Joan thing", culminating in a bizarre dinner party and a Bollywood dance.

538prom精品视频在线播放There’s a rhythmic mannerism to the novel that hypnotises even as it bewilders, a kind of raw symmetry: "you are essential to me and I am okay to you", or, more amusingly (and randomly): "Anybody should punch anybody in the face with beauty, at any time, without getting punched back by a penis." Hex is confounding and confessional; sometimes, it’s plain weird ("I have only ever been a crayon"). But with its dark humour and loopy lyricism, it bewitches.