October. Leaves start falling from the trees, the warm jumpers start making an appearance, and my bloodstream is ninety percent Pumpkin Spice Latte. ‘Tis the season for cosy nights spent reading. If there’s one thing that gets me through the cold autumn nights, it’s the prospect of Halloween. The thought of excessive fancy dress, cheap chocolate and scary films makes dark October nights that little bit sweeter. But what about literature? I’ve compiled a list of books to get you in the mood for Halloween- prepare to get spooked!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I’ve decided to kick this list off with a classic Gothic novel. There were so many that almost made the list (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, just to name a few). I settled on this classic, because what’s better than the age-old debate of who the real monster in Shelley’s Frankenstein is? Student Victor Frankenstein creates a monster in his lab and the horrors of sentient life are explored. From scary scenery to creepy creatures, this classic novel is worth reading as a way to plot the evolution of the horror genre. It’s served as inspiration for films, novels and multitudes of Halloween costumes. Why not give this book a read and then dress as the monster on Halloween, being sure to correct people when they compliment your Frankenstein costume; Actually Frankenstein is the doctor and I’m Frankenstein’s monster!
The Beetle by Richard Marsh: This is a novel that defies categorisation- is it a horror, crime, thriller, or just a mess of genres? Arguably the biggest horror is the patriarchal undertones of this novel, but nevertheless it is an exciting story with plenty to critique! The novel is framed as police case files on the mysterious possession of Robert Holt, a good man who suddenly commits a crime. The case escalates and sees the kidnapping of a politician’s daughter, Marjorie Lindon, causing a race against time to find out where she is and who took her. This ‘whodunit’ crime thriller featuring a supernatural creature is interesting to get a flavour of the evolution of the horror genre by the end of the 19th Century. Despite the stock characters of controlling man, mad scientist and strong but silenced woman, this is a brilliant crime horror which is worth a read if you like a riveting mystery.
IT by Stephen King: If you start reading this one now you might be finished by Halloween (2019). Yes, it’s long but it’s well worth sticking with if you’re prepared for some sleepless nights. There were moments I was so scared I had to close the book to snap out of the world King created. If you were a fan of the semi-recent film release, I encourage you to pick up the novel to delve even further into this terrifying creation. This is the novel that clowns complain gives them a bad reputation, and the horror Pennywise instils in me definitely makes their complaints valid! When Ben’s younger brother Georgie goes missing, he seeks solace with a group of social outcasts who affectionately term themselves ‘The Losers’. The group try to solve the mystery of Georgie’s disappearance, consequently uncovering some horrifying secrets about a curse which emerges every 27 years in the town of Derry. The horror and almost beauty of this novel comes from the childish voices narrating, allowing the reader to succumb to the vulnerability and loss of innocence when tragedy strikes. Both moving and terrifying, this novel provokes emotions within that will leave you feeling numb.
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: With this novella I’m not sure what’s more horrifying, the vampires or the intense Freudian literary criticism associated with it! Laura has a dream about a beautiful woman who bites her, but when she wakes up there’s a mysterious mark on her breast. Twelve years later, a carriage accident outside Laura’s house sees the woman from her dream emerge. Both women recognise each other, having had the same dream. They become extremely close, with the intimacy in their relationship moving beyond platonic. The woman is Carmilla and her mysterious behaviour begins to raise suspicion. With an unclear heritage, who is Carmilla and where did she come from? This classic Gothic novel is worth reading if you want to read a classic which is genuinely frightening. Full of ambiguities and plot twists alike, this novella has all the best elements of Gothic literature of the period without being too long or strenuous to read.
The Goosebumps Series by R. L. Stine: Okay, so this suggestion isn’t entirely serious. Halloween is a time of reverting back to childhood and what better way to do so than by reading the horror books that seemed to traumatise every child in this generation. Universally we all remember and fear them, so for an easy read, pick one up and see if it’s still as spooky as it was when you were ten (trust me it will be). I recommend The Haunted Mask, to this day my younger sister is still slightly afraid of putting on a mask in case it gets stuck to their face! The bullied and shy protagonist Carly sees herself as the brunt of jokes at school. That is, until she puts on a Halloween mask which she cannot take off. Her attempt to seek revenge on her bullies by scaring them backfires when the mask will not come off, leading to a quest to find an antidote to the curse. Despite being a children’s book, if it’s traumatised both my sister and I for the past ten years, it’s earnt its place on this list!
The Collector by John Fowles: Less of a horror in the traditional sense and more of a psychological thriller, The Collector documents Frederick Clegg’s obsession with art student Miranda Grey. Explored from both parties perspectives, this novel conveys how obsessive behaviours manifest and the extent to which they can be taken if left unsupervised. I’ve kept this synopsis brief for fear of spoiling the plot, and I would encourage anyone to pick this book up. This is one of my favourite books (a term I very rarely attribute) and will keep you on the edge of your seat. A psychological nail-biting page turner that leaves you with more questions than you could ever fathom, it definitely conveys the fear that you never know what a stranger is thinking, or how they may act next. Prepare to become wary of every person who walks that little bit too close to you in the street. The mind of a psychopath is explored in an original way, both from the perspective of an outsider and the mind of the psychopath themselves.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist: This novel is written in Swedish, so you may need to get a translated copy. This novel is the basis of the 2009 film of the same title, and regardless of whether you’ve seen the film, this novel is worth a read. If you’ve not watched the film or read the book, I would recommend reading first to make the book scarier and to allow you to envision the characters in your own mind. The power of cinematic jump scares means the film adaptation will be frightening regardless! Oskar befriends vampire Eli, who tries to help him enact revenge on the bullies who have been tormenting him. As their relationship becomes closer, Eli reveals his traumatic past which led to him becoming a vampire. The psychological intensity of this horror is not for the faint-hearted. The themes are disturbing, but the concept of this novel is intense and exciting, leaving you wondering what on earth you’ve just read.
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: The Amityville hauntings have provided a source of interest for so many horror films. This novel is based on the true story of the DeFeo murders and the supposed hauntings that happened in the house they were killed in. When the Lutz family moved in, they started to notice strange happenings such as waking up every morning at 3:15, feeling embraces when there is nothing there, moving crucifixes, and the unexplainable sound of doors slamming. This story saw a lawsuit hit it due to the sensitivity of the murders, but the Lutz family’s insistence that this experience was real makes the story all the more riveting. If you’re interested in the origins of horror films and real life paranormal stories, then this book is worth a read. It will leave you wanting more and wondering whether the fear the Lutz family portray is a front for money from publicity, or whether fleeing their house and leaving behind all their possessions is a reflection of the reality of this paranormal spirit.
This House is Haunted: The True Story of the Enfield Poltergeist by Guy Lyon Playfair: After watching The Conjuring 2, the true story of the Enfield hauntings piqued my interest. I spent countless hours reading newspaper articles, watching documentaries, and finally reading this book in a desperate attempt to make sense of the hauntings without putting it down to ghosts. There are so many conspiracies surrounding this event, trust me I must have seen them all, but to get a flavour for what happened this book is a great place to start. Even as someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts, this story had me wondering ‘what if it really was ghosts?’ My advice is not to read this before bed, especially if you’re the kind of person who gets spooked when a horror film opens with ‘based on true events!’
To draw this reading list to a close, I want to encourage you to pick up a horror book this October to get you in the mood for Halloween. Even if horror is not your typical genre, this list has provided lighter reads and crime novels which are a more gentle way to break into the world of horror without frightening yourself (too much)! Whether it’s a classic novel, childhood favourite, or an exploration of real life supernatural stories, there is something within the horror genre to fit everyone’s interests. Happy reading- please don’t blame me for any sleepless nights these novels may provoke!