With Halloween fast approaching, work slowly mounting up and the cold nights drawing in, now is the perfect time to curl up and read some appropriately chilling fiction. Whether you’re an avid trick-or-treater or averse to anything ghostly or pumpkin related, this list will undoubtedly inspire you to get stuck into some spooky, scary and unsettling reading.
the perfect time to curl up and read some appropriately chilling fiction
This iconic gothic horror novel recounting the story of its vampiric antihero, Count Dracula, is for many the cornerstone of Halloween fiction. Bram Stoker’s work has become a cultural icon, with countless film adaptations, themed holidays to Dracula’s Castle and Count Dracula outfits lining fancy-dress shops. Set between Transylvania and London, Stoker confronts the anxieties of Victorian England and the tensions between tradition, superstition and scientific progress. This results in multiple levels of meaning; it is on the one hand a pillar of vampire narratives, and on the other a social commentary tackling how our beliefs and our rationality intersect. Sometimes our ingrained fears and superstitions can manifest themselves despite us ‘knowing better’. Written in the form of an epistolary novel, this is as close a gothic literary alternative to a found-footage horror film like Paranormal Activity that you can read.
The Yellow Wallpaper
A shorter read but no less powerful or unnerving. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story is considered one of the most influential early works of American feminist literature, but it is not this element which makes it a perfect read for Halloween. As a first-person captivity narrative, the reader is not only immersed in the narrator’s treatment from her physician husband, but also in her gradual descent into madness. The book’s constant suspense crescendos into a horrific scene combining elements of the haunted house, ghosts and psychological thriller. This will be a book you cannot help going back to again and again, even after Halloween has passed and which only becomes more and more unnerving the more layers you uncover.
The Haunting of Hill House
Netflix’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel rose to fame in October last year. Whilst the series itself is only loosely based on Jackson’s novel, if you enjoyed the suspense and terror of the Netflix version, the book is sure to meet your expectations. The inspiration for this work was, according to Jackson, a group of 19th century psychic researchers who during their investigation, instead of unravelling the story of the haunted house, ended up revealing more about the inhabitants themselves. This is evident in that the most chilling aspects of the book are not the house in itself or the supernatural occurrences, but the ambiguous, unexplained minds of its characters. Due to its reliance on terror as opposed to horror, she presents a series of events which are never fully explained. It is never made explicit whether the haunting is happening to the protagonists or is in fact all in their minds. Labelled by Stephen King as ‘one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century’, this is a book that cannot be missed this Halloween.
one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century
Lunar Park is the most contemporary offering on this list of recommendations. Released in 2005, Bret Easton Ellis’ mock memoir is by no means a typical horror. Whilst I have hopefully shown that Halloween fiction is so much more than the clichés of vampires, ghosts and haunted houses, this novel extends far beyond its supernatural events. Utilising the tropes of horror fiction, Ellis explores contemporary American society, psychological trauma and the nature of writing in itself. The narrative isn’t one of the expected fear and terror, but instead one which prompts unsettling questions about society and humanity which endure long after the final chapter.
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