Eerie Reads, Old & New
There’s still time to get a few scares in before Nov, 1. Here’s a quick list of Halloween reads. Trigger warnings are in use, ya’ll.
1. The Shining Girls (2013), Lauren Beukes
Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, murder, gender-based violence
Scare type: A gritty thriller with equal parts realism and science fiction.
A leading South African author, Lauren Beukes never forgoes concerns of social justice in order to tell a well-executed, horrifying, more-than-a-bit-fucked-up story. The Shining Girls is no exception, with Beukes writing about a time-travelling serial killer who must murder young women to keep up the Doctor Who shenanigans, and the kick-ass survivor who wants to take him down.
2. A Murder is Announced (1950), Agatha Christie
Trigger warnings: Xenophobia, antisemitism, murder, 50s era ageism and sexism.
Scare type: A classic whodunit.
I became interested in Agatha Christie a few years ago, but only followed through with anything more than mild curiosity after watching And Then There Were None (2016), which you HAVE to watch, like, now. To be fair, it's been said that the novel the miniseries is based on was heavily influenced by other writers like Gwen Bristow, and Arthur Conan Doyle. So, I'm not sure how many square metric tonnes of kudos we can give to the odd woman who originally named her story ‘Ten Little N*ggers' - yes, really. If you can compartmentalize that (???) then Christie is still a great go-to for a good detective story. A Murder is Announced centers the underestimated genius of Ms Marple as she helps law enforcement solve the mystery of a murder that follows its announcement in the local paper of a small country town.
3. Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion (2011), Janet Mullany
Trigger warnings: Violence.
Scare type: A proper old Halloween scare story featuring long-time favourites - vampires.
In the vein (ha, ha, ha!) of scifi and romanticism mash-ups popular a few years back, Blood Persuasion is Janet Mullany's second book featuring the brilliant Jane Austen as a vampy vamp. Not much in the way of truly creepy scenes, but still packed with enough bite (I'm done, I swear) to keep you cosy come Hallow's eve.
4. Perfume (1985), Patrick Süskind
Trigger warnings: Murder, gender-based violence, sexism, suggestions of incest, suggestions of sexual assault, heavy sexual themes.
Scare type: An out-there, historical thriller with realistic and fantastical elements.
I love this book. I do. But I started loving it a while before I woke up to things like the non-existence of virginity and the very many ways this concept has fucked up women's lives across history.
So, would I still love it if I read it for the first time today? Maybe. With a pinch of salt, Suskind's work is still a gorgeous, sensual book on the nature of the least-recognized but arguably most primal of our senses - smell. It gazes through French history from the frame of the protagonist's nostrils, and sells a decent thriller, even if it relies heavily on a shared misanthropy between said protagonist and reader.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in the 1700s with an incredible sense of smell, and a talent for sniffing out the best sources of olfactory pleasure. When Grenouille realises that the best scents come from so-called 'virginal' women, he is led down a path of serial murder, culminating in a run-in with a questionable father and his daughter, as well as town-wide orgy. Best not to read this one out loud, if one can help it.
5. Broken Monsters (2014), Lauren Beukes
Trigger warnings: Murder, gender-based violence, graphic violence, suggestion of pedophilia.
Scare type: A dark, noir thriller a la True Detective (S1, 2014), but one that asks the question that so few do - 'What about the poor?'
Detective Versado tries to uncover the mystery around the grizzly, half-human, half-animal dead left behind by a decidedly disturbed individual, while her daughter dabbles in the dark potential of online spaces, and Thomas Keen (or 'TK'), does what he can to keep his homeless family safe on the increasingly-hostile streets of Detroit. For tough minds only.
6. An Interview with a Vampire (1976), Anne Rice
Trigger warnings: Violence, suggestion of pedophilia, sexual assault, gender-based violence, race-based violence.
Scare type: Old fashioned Gothic horror, again, with vampires.
The story of An Interview takes place between the slave-era and the present, and eloquently displays the very human folly of it's fanged characters through its concentration on complex and problematic social needs. Anne Rice wrote this novel at a particularly turbulent time in her life, and it shows. A must-read for Gothic horror newbies and fans alike.
7. The Big Book of Grimm (1999), Jonathan Vankin
Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, gender-based violence, graphic violence, pedophilia, incest, murder, child abuse, cannibalism. Almost everything, really.
Scare type: Fantasy horror, the OG of twisted tales.
The Grimm's brothers collected some screwed-up stories, mind you. And you probably knew that already from what you've read. But, have you read the versions that weren't neatened-up for children's stories? Probably not. They're hard to come by - much like a happy ending as far as old Germanic people were concerned, it seems. Grab this page-turner and be prepared for the worst.
8. The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Shirley Jackson
Trigger warnings: Mental illness, suicide.
Scare type: Mid-century, American Gothic horror - that’s the good shit.
A colleague at Penguin suggested I read this, and by god, if that wasn’t the best recommendation I’ve ever had the luck to receive. From the writer of the school syllabus must-read, ‘The Lottery’ comes this dark take on the haunted house trope. Different to it’s (nonetheless very good) Netflix adaptation, the book’s biggest strength is it’s ability to capture the tense power dynamics within female friendships. Prepare to leave somewhat unsatisfied, but watch how this unsettledness bleeds into your life for weeks, and truly feel for yourself Jackson’s exacting genius.
9. The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller
Trigger warnings: Religious themes, violence.
Scare type: Historical gothic horror, set in the Pilgrim days of America’s 1600s.
A punishingly-infuriating account of the utter injustice of the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693. On a bigger scale, the book is also about group-think, fascism, shame, and how these pool in isolated communities where strict order governing respectability (often religion, but not always) has awarded some dangerous privilege over others. A cautionary tale that still holds true today, even if our ‘isolated communities’ are just social media echo chambers.
Final Girls (2017), Riley Sager
Trigger warnings: Sexual violence, suicide, graphic violence.
Scare type: A 90s slasher-horror/thriller revival.
Another book gleaned from my Penguin days, Riley Sager’s Final Girls is a sharp, fervent read following Quincy Carpenter, the survivor of a ‘horror movie-scale massacre’. Because of her survival, she unwillingly joins a group called the ‘Final Girls’ - women who also escaped their own graphic horror stories. A few years pass, and just when things were going okay, the first member of the Final Girls is found murdered. Perfect for fans of I Know What You Did Last Summer (if you’re kak old like me), or ‘One of Us is Lying’ (if you’re not).