For those of you who are too weak to read scary books at any other time of year but are just about plucking up the courage to read a single one in October- here you go, losers.
I have received many requests for book recommendations but nobody seems to know what kind of ‘scary book’ they want. There is a big difference between reading a thriller that makes you a li’l nervous and a clown story that makes you literally shit your pants.
So here’s an article to help you decide what kind of sub-genre you’re looking for.
I feel personally attacked by a fictional ghost and now I can’t sleep
This is probably my favourite sub-genre of horror, because ghosts are a part of folklore which exist across cultures. This gives authors room to write ghost stories within pretty much any setting. Cool.
1) M R James – Collected Ghost stories
This is the anthology that got me hooked on horror. At the young age of 12, my mum and I read this together in bed as the nights grew dark. My personal favourite is Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad. At Christmas time, Radio 4 does readings of these unforgettable stories. No really- they’re very unforgettable. They sort of scarred me for life.
2) Michelle Paver – Dark Matter and Thin Air
These two books are probably the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. They’re a series, sort of, but only in theme- you don’t need to read them in order. Set in two of earth’s most inhospitable tundras, the Arctic and the Himalayas, our main characters come face to face with the ghosts of previous explorers- isolating them from their expedition and leading them down the path of insanity. Because ghosts aren’t exclusive to spooky, creaking houses. They’re everywhere, ready to fuck up your life.
Get rekt tiny children
There is little more satisfying than reading a bunch of kids get really scared, whilst adults watch on in mild confusion at best- more often, apathy.
1) Paedar O’Guilin – The Call
Don’t let the fact that this is teen fiction trick you into thinking this isn’t scary. This book is terrifying, and I had to read it in one sitting just to find out how it would end. Set in Ireland, teenagers are being trained to defend themselves for when they inevitably receive ‘the call’- when they are plucked out of their homes and brought to the grim world which the fairies had long ago been exiled by humans. The fairies are getting their revenge, and it’s in, like, the most hideous and stressful way possible. It’s brutal, you guys, and very worth the read.
Spoiler: the fairies are not cute at all, they will haunt your dreams, like they did in original Irish folklore. You’re not supposed to like fairies, people, they’re vicious bastards.
2) Stephen King – IT
With all the hype that’s come with the film’s reboot, is it even worth giving a summary? This book is a landmark within the horror genre. It’s also a giant brick of a motherfucker, so be prepared to spend the rest of your life reading about both children and adults being mercilessly devoured by a raging clown demon.
Oh God there’s blood everywhere
I don’t read murder mysteries or thrillers as much as the horror genre itself, but I’ve read a couple of really gruesome things that would classify as horror.
1) Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange
This is, of course, a classic. So if you’re too much of a wimp to read something that’s technically a horror story and want the excuse of it being ‘more worth the read’ because it’s considered a literary diamond, then this is a good one to go with.
It’s also very, very graphic. Buckle up, this book is unsettling as all fuck.
Other books of this variety are- American Psycho, Pet Sematary, anything by Joe Nesbo. Please don’t make me say more I don’t actually like this sub-genre.
2) Kendare Blake – Anna Dressed in Blood
This is another YA novel so the bloodshed, whilst quite copious, is also pretty acceptable. If teenagers are allowed to read it without being forever traumatised, then you’re safe. Don’t be fooled by the really, really terrible cover. I know it looks like someone watched too much Supernatural and tried to write Twilight, but it’s actually very well written. If not filled with very annoying teenagers.
3) Graeme Macrae Barnet – His Bloody Project
If this title doesn’t say enough, this book follows the trial of a seventeen year old boy who murdered three people. Surprise- it actually happened.
Written as the murderer Roderick’s memoir, it also contains court transcripts, newspaper clippings and medical notes which were published at the time of the trial in 1869. It’s harrowing and an interesting insight into what screwed up this particular teenage boy.
Zombies? Eating everyone? It’s more likely than you think
Zombies hell yeah I love zombies!
1) Mira Grant – Feed
The first of a triology, this is the best zombie book I’ve read. Better than World War Z, yes. It takes a refreshing angle on this overdone genre by telling it through the perspective of a journalist. It’s also set around thirty years post outbreak, so the zombies are quite happily tucked away in their respective, fenced off zones. The issues arise when the main characters being following a presidential campaign, and uncover a conspiracy that is somehow more horrifying than just plain old zombies roaming around.
2) Adrian Barnes – Nod
This book was pretty divisive. It’s a marmite book- some love it, some hate it. I thought that it was interesting and definitely unsettling. Whilst it’s not technically zombies- they don’t really eat anyone- it does feature some very sleep deprived people doing dangerous, stupid shit.
If you have the energy, please read the Author’s Note. It’s almost better than the book itself.
This book fucked with my head in beautiful, stressful ways
1) Anything by Philip K. Dick.
Electric Dreams. Scanner Darkly. Anything. Just do it.
2) B. Catling – The Vorrh
This isn’t a brilliant way to start a review, but I actually hated this book. Couldn’t finish it. The reason being that it’s written so complexly that I literally had no idea what was happening. It’s kind of like if J. R. Tolkein and Joseph Conrad wrote a colonial supernatural Garden of Eden themed horror. If that sounds up your street, give it a shot, and let me know what you’ll think. I’ll tell you why I think it’s the biggest pile of pretentious wank ever.
Is it supernatural or isn’t it? I can’t tell and I’m stressed
1) Andrew Michael Hurley – The Loney
Nothing scarier than super-duper stressfully religious people ruining everyone’s lives, right? Well, The Loney ticks that box, as two brothers and their Christian family venture to the most depressing place in the world, the Lancashire Coast, for a retreat of all things. During their time exploring the arse end of nowhere, main character Hanny tries to support his younger, autistic brother as his family attempt to ‘cure’ him by means of a magical waterfall. Meanwhile, there are other sinister things at work that are possibly supernatural, possibly demonic, possibly all in this child protagonist’s head.
Or are they all in his head…?
I don’t know. That wasn’t a rhetorical question. If you’ve read it, please tell me what you think.
2) Joe Hill – Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
My goodness, the title of this book is deceptively crap. So many horror books have this issue, and a lot of them a really rather good.
Our main character is a very concerned mother, Elizabeth Sanderson, who’s thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, went missing- last seen at the ominously named Devil’s Rock. As Elizabeth uncovers weird stories about Devil’s Rock that seem a little bit far-fetched but no less terrifying because her son went missing there, she starts to see things. Starts to wonder if her son really went missing, or if something of the supernatural vein took place.
Again, I have no idea whether it was supernatural. Please read this and tell me what you thought.
Demons up in my shit
Demons are probably the thing that scare me most. If you believe in a higher power, if you believe in the power of good- even if it doesn’t have a big white bushy beard- it’s hard not to, conversely, believe in the power of evil.
1) Adam Nevill – Under a Watchful Eye
This is probably my favourite horror book I’ve ever read. Set in sunny Devon, where you least expect demons to creep up in you, protagonist Seb Logan is happily writing his latest novel when he sees someone from his university days he’s better off forgetting. Especially since he’s meant to be dead. But now, he’s following him, and this old frenemy is dragging him into the world of horrific demons, astral projection, and conspiracy theorists. It’s a world he’d really rather not be a part of.
This combines the fascinating themes of dreams, demonic visitations, and really horrible friends you made in first year, and turns it into an absolutely terrifying novel.
Witches aren’t that sexy, they’re just scary
OK, I used to watched Charmed as a little girl, and, fine, yes, witches can be very sexy. But, uh, you really don’t wanna fuck with these ones.
1) Thomas Olde Heuvelt – Hex
The small, American town Black Springs has been plagued by the haunting of Katherine van Wyler for centuries. She doesn’t really do much other than appear in you home and stand there awkwardly- the reason being that her eyes and mouth have been shown shut. If those eyes open, if that mouth utters a single word, shit will go down. If you try to leave the town, then your mind will be ridden with thoughts of suicide. So whilst Katherine van Wyler doesn’t seem to do very much, she actually does an awful lot. It leads the people of Black Springs to lose their minds a little.
Plus, they have an app to find out where she is, which I think is hilarious.
2) Susan Hill – The Woman in Black
OK, no, she’s not technically a witch. More of a ghost, I suppose. But she kind of gives off that witch vibe, with her whole child killing, hiding behind a black veil, being generally terrifying thing she’s got going.
This book is a horror classic. Susan Hill might churn out a lot, but her good stuff is really good. This is a short, frightening read. In fact, my mum was so scared she threw it out of the window.
It’s the end of the world and it’s all our fault, useless humans
Considering how tits up everything’s going right now with global warming and anaemic, wig wearing weasels running the planet? This is a pretty relevant genre to be reading.
1) Ali Shaw – The Trees
This is a classic nature-takes-over-because-humans-ruined-everything story. A dark comedy more than anything, our pessimist and general useless human being protagonist, Adrien, finds a tree has grown through his house. His neighbour is impaled by branches and people are being eaten by wolves. He begins a journey to find his wife, and along the way picks up a couple of people who are a lot more capable than him if not also quite annoying. This is a little like if Studio Ghibli tried to do British, adult humour. With added death.
2) Stepehn King – Cell
This is obviously not one of Stephen’s best, but to be honest I kind of think it’s brilliant. It is, of course, to do with the threat of technology taking over our lives. One day, everyone’s cell phones essentially spark their users into barbarism. Those who weren’t using their phone in that moment are left to navigate this new, savage epoch, without much of an understanding of how it happened or what to do next.
There’s nothing supernatural here, just awful people
People are the worst.
1) Stephen King – Misery
My favourite of the Stephen King novels, Misery is about a tired novelist who wants to write something new and exciting but has to churn out the same old shit to make any money (Stephen?? Is that you??). On his way to his writing retreat, he gets into a car crash- the icy conditions are the real villain of this story.
No, actually, they’re not. I lied. The real villain is the lady who kidnaps him and essentially tortures him because she likes his books and wants to play with him like a taxidermy butterfly.
I hope this satisfies all your scary story needs. October is obviously a great time to read this sort of thing, but Christmas in the U.K. traditionally celebrates scary stories too. Falling leaves, winter walks, cosy log fires- it’s the perfect conditions to snuggle up with a loved one, open up a horrifying book and traumatise yourself for the rest of your life.