(Thanks for the title, Lauren…)
It’s nearing the end of October. Pumpkins are in bloom. The days are short. The nights are long. The weather is…mostly cold? And it’s prime time for some creepy reads…
In this special post, I’m listing a number of favourite novels and comic series which are particularly memorable for their disquieting effects… Of course, I couldn’t list every book I’ve read in the horror or thriller genre, but I have chosen just a small selection of works which are perfect to lose yourself in, either for this most chilling of holidays, or for the cold months ahead…
Included are novels from differing genres and a handful of titles (both old and new) from the world of comics. All of the titles here are available and in print (whether that’s in-stores, online, secondhand, or kindle, and all appear to be, of this date, in print from their respective publishers!)
Side note: All photos here were collected off of the web and are used for illustrative purposes only. …Ok? Ahem.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967)- Joan Lindsay
Australia, 1900. A school outing turns into a bizarre mystery when a number of schoolgirls disappear inexplicably at the picturesque Hanging Rock. As the weeks go by, there is no trace of the missing students. Depicted as a true story, there is a quiet and haunting tone throughout this novel, with much of the mystery remaining curiously vague.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is at once described as a ‘historical novel’ but is also one of the strangest mystery novels I’ve ever read (and I have read this about three times last count…?). It has a dreamy and languid tone to it throughout, with very gentle prose which fits the nature of the book. There is an emphasis on innocence and quaint Edwardian romance, but with a strangely disturbing undertone throughout. What happened to the girls? The novel is famous in its attempts to act as a true crime work, but is entirely fictitious (sorry!). Not as out-and-out spooky as other titles on the shelves, but certainly one to try. Lindsay famously wrote an alternative ending chapter, which retrospectively really changes the tone of the novel (and its genre…) – I’d seek this out only when you’ve finished reading the novel (I believe a number of modern editions include this omitted ending).
The Collected Ghost Stories of… (circa 1900-30) – M. R. James
Classic ghost stories by one of the masters – M. R. James’ works continue to haunt readers over a hundred years after their earliest publication. Spectres, curses, creatures, hexes, lost treasure, and inhuman visitors stalk the short stories of M. R. James’ expansive literary canon.
There are so many individual stories by M. R. James that, much like Lovecraft or Poe (who are far more lurid than James by the by), everyone has a particular favourite which stands out to them. Two places to start would be ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ (1904) and ‘The Tractate Middoth’ (1911) – both of which have been adapted for television (and are prime Christmas-spook-affairs). The first tells of a lecturer who harmlessly finds a whistle on the beach during his holiday and very quickly comes to be persecuted by something unearthly, whilst the second involves an unsettled librarian, a bizarre text, a last will and testament dispute, and a stalking figure throughout. There is a typically turn-of-the-century sensibility to James’ short stories which are wonderfully at odds with some, at-times, quite disturbing imagery. For classic haunts and eerie occurrences, you can’t go wrong!
Rebecca (1938) – Daphne du Maurier
The unnamed narrator is surprised when the handsome and recently widowed Maxim de Winter shows interest in her, and even more so when she finds herself swiftly married to him and taken to his highly esteemed home estate of Manderley in Cornwall. Backed by the sea and surrounded by beautiful flowers in a winding and deep woodland, the new Mrs de Winter is struck by the magnificence all around her, and yet there is an all-encompassing sense of unease emitting from the mansion’s very walls. At odds with the strangely sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, and forever reminded of the previous Mrs de Winter (the eponymous Rebecca, who seemingly could do no wrong), the estate of Manderley, at once loved and respected, becomes an oppressive and monstrous entity in its own right…
Recently recommended to me by a good friend (I had spent most of my life up until this month assuming Rebecca was of the Romantic period and not quite so modern — don’t ask…), I read through this book over the course of a couple of days and could not stop! Echoing the much earlier Jane Eyre, but with far heavier themes and much more darkness lying between the lines, Rebecca is a genuinely emotive novel with a strong central mystery slowly being discovered throughout. The cyclical nature of the novel (beginning with the end, and ending just before the start of the story) works well here, but it is the characters and the memory of the first Mrs de Winter which stay with you longest.
Follow You Home (2015) – Mark Edwards
Newly weds, Laura and Daniel, are travelling through Europe by train on a once-in-a-lifetime trip; but when they are subjected to a theft, they are stranded deep in the woodlands, outraged and unable to find their way home. Some time later, once home, the couple’s relationship has become hugely strained. They are haunted by the horrors they uncovered in that forest so far from home on that trip – and the nightmare appears to be catching up with them.
This did (and continues to do) very well on Kindle and is one of a number of recent thrillers I’ve tried on a whim – and man, I’m glad I did! One of the most memorable from my recent foray into bestseller territory, Edwards’ novel is split effectively between the nightmarish holiday the characters experience, and their haunted home-life after the fact. It’s truly one of those “keeps-you-guessing” novels: what did they see in the woods? Who did they encounter out there? And why has it followed them home? Very dark and ripe for adaptation…
The Stand (1978) – Stephen King
A terrible plague escapes from a military compound, devastating the population until only a few remain alive. As society collapses, a number of individuals travel many miles, drawn together by one woman’s prophetic dreaming; conversely, others are drawn to a mysterious man in black, Randall Flagg, the epitome of evil – setting the stage for an apocalyptic confrontation.
It’s been many years sine I last read The Stand – and yet it’s one of my favourites to recommend. It has stuck with me all these years and it’s prime time I sat down and read it all over again. Yes, excluding the comics about to be recommended, this is by far the longest novel I’ll recommend, but it has all the drama and ensemble characters of any television show to date (in fact, it is long overdue for another screen adaptation – though that seems fraught with problems when you do a little digging…). The Stand blends science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, and supernatural horror to make this huge novel a particularly unique read. Maybe not to everyone’s liking – it does split readers – but certainly worth checking out. After all, you can’t have a horror fiction list without one Stephen King, right?!
Saga of the Swamp Thing – Alan Moore (and others)
Swamp Thing (particularly this run) blends surrealism, horror, and romance into one bizarre and memorable concoction. Once human, but now linked inextricably to the plant world, elemental and haunted, Swamp Thing fights against inhuman foes, supernatural visions, and interstellar horrors, all whilst protecting the woman he loves. As the story goes on, the strange only increases…
I have read through (most) of this run, and it’s not just Moore’s arresting prose and dialogue which lingers, but much of the bizarre (and, at times, experimental) artwork this series has. There is a profundity to many of the issues this series is built by, and there are some moments which hearken back to classic (pre-censorship) horror comics with all their Gothic menace, but there are also some incredibly bizarre (and even disturbing!) images and themes at play in some later issues (looking at you, #60… What the hey…?!).
Harrow County – Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook (and others)
Emmy lives a quiet rural life, deep in the Southern countryside. Myths and ghost stories haunt the landscape, whispered about from family to family for generations. In particular, one story, that is often hushed: of a murdered witch some years previous. Emmy soon comes to realise there is truth behind these stories – that things do stalk the woods around the farm, that things hide in the darkest corners, and that everyone around you may not be as they seem…
A currently running series and one you have got to buy right now (GO GO GO), Harrow County‘s gorgeous softly drawn and inked artwork blends beautifully with the bloody and grotesque inhabitants of a world rarely seen next to our own. Emmy is a likeable protagonist who is beset by difficult situations and choices, and must come to terms with her own changing self as well as opening her eyes to a world she never knew really existed. Genuinely creepy and gorgeously presented, this blends witchcraft, ghosts (or ‘haints’ as they’re known here), demonic entities, and doppelgangers – so if there’s one horror series you need to be following right now, it’s this one!
Wytches – Scott Snyder and Jock
After a traumatic incident, a family moves to a new town with hopes of starting over. As a father tries to reconnect with his daughter, past violence keeps rearing its head, and the mysterious locals seem connected in some way to the darkness in the woods around them. Deep inside the forest, something inhuman watches and waits, promised something precious.
The artwork and writing mesh together beautifully here to create a dark and violent six-issue series (overlaid cleverly with transparent scratches and splotches throughout), with nightmarish visuals and a surprisingly heartfelt paternal core. The struggles of both the father and daughter to reconnect, and the need to protect our loved ones from the awful things just out of view, underpin this short series and highlight typical family concerns but within a disturbing and troubling central event. The eponymous ‘wytches’ themselves are genuinely disturbing and memorable, and are uniquely depicted. Collected currently in one volume (though I heard a second series is maybe on the way…?), Wytches is a great jumping off point into modern horror comics.
Of course, we all have our own recommendations and favourite festive frights! And in all honesty – it was really hard to choose! Some titles I wanted to save for later blog posts, others might work better in other lists, and some (including many of the masters of horror I haven’t mentioned) really deserve their own analysis. So if I haven’t mentioned your favourites, worry not! I would love to hear which books you always go to at this time of year; which ones do you automatically recommend to friends; and which recent reads have really spooked you? I tried to choose some varying works here, and I genuinely enjoyed all of the titles here. They’re not for everyone – but few things ever are! I hope you enjoyed this list and we will continue next time with another ‘I Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ post –
and boy, has it been a while coming…?
Happy Halloween and enjoy whatever tale you stumble upon this season!
Next Up: Unwise Child (1962) by Randall Garrett!
Soon. It’s coming. I promise.