Firstly, this is not a usual Halloween list. There is not a zombie or werewolf in sight.
It is not that I dislike fantasy horror characters, I just don’t find them scary at all. So here are 5 books that I found genuinely disturbing.
1. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
A boy is responsible for a school shooting and the story is told by his mother through letters to her now estranged husband. Forget ‘The Omen’, even toddler Kevin is pure horror in this tale. Of course, the book is known for its discussion of parenthood and it is clear that his mother Eva blames herself for how her turned out. However, the final horrific denouement played on my mind for days afterwards.
2. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
I know I said this list had no ‘Halloween’ characters and yes, I did get the memo that there is a vampire in this book, but the book is *very* different in tone from the films and as a result, the vampire Eli is not the character to be feared. This is a book about pedophilia, with Eli’s ‘carer’ Håkan desperate to help Eli kill because he wants to have sex with the little vampire. Håkan will go to any lengths and takes great pleasure in spying on boys at the swimming pool and then killing them. The scene where a badly burned Håkan finally gets his wish is more disturbing than any of the vampire’s murders.
3. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
That classic tale of eighties materialism and serial killing! The mundane details of Patrick Bateman’s beauty regime and business cards alongside the brutal details of his murders, makes them even more chilling in their juxtaposition. The first time I attempted to read this, I couldn’t even finish it.
4. The Shining by Stephen King.
I think this is by far King’s best book. Isolated in the Overlook Hotel for the Winter, Jack Torrance slowly turns mad. The plot in the book is more subtle than the film (it is well noted that King hates Kubrick’s film adaptation) and there is always the debate about to what extent it is the ghosts of The Overlook controlling Jack or whether his battle with alcoholism and anger issues are the real cause of his violence.
5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
I read this when I was a teenager. Too scared to watch the infamous film, I thought I’d opt to read the book instead. Right from the first couple of chapters when Regan wakes to find herself floating above her bed with her nose pressed up against the ceiling, I knew this was a book I shouldn’t read before going to sleep. A book about demonic possession and the question of faith. This might be old now, but it still gives goosebumps.
There are lots of other books I could have added but these are the ones that are most memorable for me. I guess books that frighten you are dependant on individual tastes and fears.
What books have you read that really scared you?
Happy Halloween. Sleep well.