It’s Halloween tomorrow, and tonight the 4th Estate team will be busy designing costumes, whittling pumpkins and stockpiling sweets. And most importantly, reading. Here are the books we recommend you scare yourself silly with this evening – from chilling children’s books to fearsome fiction to terrifying true crime (but including no ghost writers, suprisingly). As the Goosebumps books used to say on the cover: reader beware… you’re in for a scare…
WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson
‘I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had.’ This is Mary Katherine Blackwood, or ‘Merricat’, the sinister star of Shirley Jackson’s classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Reading these words, you know how much fun this novel is going to be. ‘Scary’ is not exactly the right word, but it’s witty, thrilling, dark and tense, and the twist – when it comes – is perfect. So inevitable you’ve half known it all along, and yet somehow, when it comes, still a shock. Just perfect.
Anna Kill-y, Commissioning Editor
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
November 1959. A family slaughtered in their home in rural Kansas. Two young drifters arrested for the crime. In Cold Blood is Truman Capote’s chilling true crime masterpiece, describing the author’s journey to Holcomb, Kansas to cover the case. A precursor to modern investigative journalism, In Cold Blood’s haunting reconstruction of the night of the Clutter family murders treads a fine line between reportage and memoir; as Capote grew more and more personally involved in the investigation, he became increasingly fascinated by the two young men accused of the grisly crime, Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock.
Scare-argh! Thickett, Assistant Editor
THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins
‘I am thinking,” he remarked quietly, “whether I shall add to the disorder in this room, by scattering your brains about the fireplace.’
I do not read scary books by choice. I do not watch scary films by choice. Sometimes though, the necessity arises. This is almost always because of a teaser: perhaps a trailer snuck in before some tame film about pensioners finding love, only to haunt waking and sleeping hours from then on. In the case of The Woman In White, it was a full recounting of the first half of the book’s plot on a very long walk with a braver friend absorbed in its pages. And what a plot. One of the novel’s characters remarks, “I have always held the old-fashioned opinion that the primary object of work of fiction should be to tell a story” – his creator more than succeeds at this objective. I was plagued by fear of the mysterious pale woman wandering the fields, by worry about Walter, the very likable hero, by nightmares of the shady world of asylums, family secrets and ghosts. To immunise myself against uncertainty I read the book – and have never been so glad to face my fears.
Lettice Frightnin’, Assistant Editor
PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS by Richard Lloyd Parry
Nominative determinism has ensured that I remain an obsessive horror fiction nerd long past the point when I should have grown out of it. Unfortunately, this means I’ve become a bit desensitised to scary books. The likes of Shirley Jackson, Vernon Lee, Robert Aickman might inspire the odd spine-tingle but it’s been a long time since I felt anything approaching fear while reading. That all changed last year, when I read People Who Eat Darkness. Even in the fluorescent lights of the tube ride home, this book made me paranoid – the true story of a young Englishwoman who went missing in Japan in the summer of 2000, it is a magisterial work of reportage, and a reminder that monsters really do exist.
Tom Even-More-Killing-beck, Publishing Executive
THERE’S SOMETHING IN MY ATTIC by Mayer Mercer
This isn’t technically a scary read now, because apparently I’m an adult, but the scariest book I’ve read to date is There’s Something in My Attic, written and illustrated by Mayer Mercer. It’s about a little girl whose teddy bear keeps going missing, and on her quest to find it, stumbles upon a monster hiding at the top of the house who has indeed taken it. On paper it doesn’t sound that frightening, but trust me, when you’re reading it as a child and your grandparents have the biggest, darkest attic you’ve ever seen, when your teddy bear goes missing, there’s nothing scarier. I never did find it.
Candice Nasty-Thrilliams, Marketing Assistant
THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS by John Wyndham
And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past. This apocalyptic novel is claustrophobic, and will suffocate you like the triffids. With the impossible battle between morality and survival at its dark heart, this unsettling novel will make you question man’s moral fortitude when the survival of the fittest is the only thing that matters – and that contemplation is more terrifying than literature’s classic horror stories.
Hate Tolley, Editor
VINEGAR STREET by Philip Ridley
I used to love Philip Ridley’s books as a child. They were full of unusual adventures and existential fantasy that always seemed edged with deep psychological drama. At the time, I only picked up on this subconsciously, leading me to always feel slightly unsettled, but as I got older, I grew to understand the reason for this unsettled feeling was down to Ridley’s remarkable knack for drawing you in to the protagonist’s inner dialogue. Most psychologically disturbing was perhaps Vinegar Street, a story of a gothic girl who heard voices that guided her actions. I will always remember being disturbed by this on a psychological level, not quote grasping the nuances of mental health that Ridley portrays so well.
Ralph Darker, Graduate Trainee
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