Hex is a novel about obsession, complicated relationships, and poison set around a university campus. Nell Barber was expelled from her PhD after the death of a fellow student, but is still desperate to keep trying to find answers for the detoxification of poisonous plants. She is obsessed with her advisor and mentor, Joan, who thinks she should try and pursue less controversial work, and they both find themselves in a web of relationships and grudges that may be more toxic than the plants Nell is now growing in her empty apartment.
Hex is a surprising novel, which seems like it is going to be about poison and death, and turns out to be about relationships and obsession. Written in the second person as Nell’s notebooks, the book’s unusual style and lack of real plot won’t be for everyone, but it creates an atmosphere and draws you into Nell’s obsession, which is less about the poisonous plants and more about Joan. The blend of details about plants and Nell’s focus on the other characters works well in giving it the claustrophobic sense of a campus novel that centres around a small group of people whilst using the academic work as a way of exposing elements of the story and characters.
Going into Hex expecting a poison-focused version of The Secret History probably will leave you disappointed, as it lacks the threat of Tartt’s novel, but it is an interesting look at obsessive love and the complexity of relationships, and one for anyone who likes slightly dark novels set at universities.