Halloween is just around the corner, and inquiring minds around the book-o-sphere are asking, “What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?” Lists of scary stories are being passed out like Halloween candy. LitReactor even has the “5 Scariest Grammar Issues.” Adding to that festively dark spirit, here are a few of my favorite spooky novels.
1. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
I reviewed this back in July, and it still stands out as one of the scariest books I’ve read in quite a while. I highly recommend listening to this as an audiobook, as it features a world in which people go mad by catching a glimpse of otherworldly creatures.
In Bird Box land, you hunker down at home, hiding behind windows covered with with mattresses and blankets. You need to protect yourself from seeing whatever thing is outside. When you must go out for supplies, you go out blindfolded, fumbling, and very afraid. This book is agonizing in some places, as it presents characters with countless fears they must face blinded.
2. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
The best kind of spooky novel doesn’t make sense in places, and MZD’s House of Leaves creates a world in which nothing is quite right. There are layers here, and each one of them hangs like a crooked picture on a wall of madness.
First, we meet photojournalist Will Navidson and his family, who have moved into a house which is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. He films his ventures into the home’s more bizarre aspects.
In the second layer of the story, Navidson’s film is analyzed by Zampanò, a blind academic who devoted much of his work to studying the documentary “The Navidson Record.”
The third layer is that of Johnny Truant, who stumbles upon Zampanò’s notes, and thus the story of Will Navidson and his home, and begins to assemble those notes into a narrative, often including his own story and thoughts.
Got all that? As Truant falls deeper into the house, you’ll find yourself falling too…
A pedophile (nicknamed Chappy, a reference to a childhood love of Chapstick) has been locked away for years, and begins receiving letters from a catty young woman who claims to also be a pedophile. Through this young woman’s questions and her own stories, Chappy walks us through his long and dark hall of memories, each one building up to a more brutal, sad, and sadistic result than the last.
Appendix A, for those of you who really want to get freaked out, is a collection of (obviously fictional) evidence surrounding Chappy’s crime: his confession, some self-portraits he created, evidence bagged from the crime, and photos of his very disturbed family.
A.M. Homes is a beautiful, lyrical writer, so the concept manages to work without being unbearable to read. However, this is the most disturbing book I’ve read, and it definitely doesn’t have a happy ending. If you aren’t looking for something gruesome and grim, choose another from the list.
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This is my current spooky Halloween read, and thus far it is not disappointing. It is, in fact, totally epic. It is thought to be the best haunted house story ever written, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Montague hopes to investigate the paranormal activity at Hill House, a ghost hunter before his time, and he invites three young guests to stay in the house with him. Shirley Jackson is a master of creating mood, and the suffocating, nauseating mood in Hill House as its first new resident steps in, summoned in a letter by Dr. Montague, is unforgettable.
Those who have seen the movies know it all goes downhill from there.
5. Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez
I think this book hasn’t seen its peak in popularity yet, as there’s some buzz about it being made into a movie by writer Mark Heyman, who penned Black Swan. Uhm, amazing.
If there’s something spooky in a book and it isn’t a house, you can bet it is going to be an old film. In Syndrome E, an old film is blinding people who watch it. Two detectives converge on the case from very different directions; they uncover all sorts of dark and twisted stuff all over the world. I’m not going to give it away here.
Go get your read on, you dark and twisted children of the night!