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31st October 2022

The Booooks section’s favourite spooky tales

Frome straight-up gothic horror to thought-provoking, tales which take a scary twist on classic stories, here is the definitive list of books to scare you silly this Halloween.
The Booooks section’s favourite spooky tales
Photo: Jacob Folkard @ The Mancunion

Scary books can be notoriously hard to be actually scary. Unlike films, plays, or even music, they rely pretty heavily on the reader’s imagination. But not every scary book has to be a Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft tome. In fact, there is a whole world of other terrifying tales out there, just waiting to be explored. With that in mind, here are the Mancunion books sections’ recommendations of scary stories to read this Halloween.

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle has everything any fan of gothic literature craves. Although Jackson is better known for The Haunting of Hill House, which was turned into a hit Netflix series, her last novel is much more suspenseful and tightly crafted.

Set in the slowly decaying Blackwood family home, it follows the protagonist Merricat and the only two remaining members of her family after a tragic incident six years prior to the novel’s opening. In a similar style to Charles Dickens’ character Lady Havisham in Great Expectations, the Blackwood’s world of withering wealth shrouds the deaths of Merricat’s family in mystery.

Pick up this book to immerse yourself in the unravelling that ensues as the claustrophobic Blackwood home is disturbed by Cousin Charles and his questions.

Ira Levin: Rosemary’s Baby

If you are lucky enough to have never read Rosemary’s Baby then don’t do any more research – the Hollywood poster alone gives away massive spoilers! Ira Levin’s novel follows wannabe actor Guy Woodhouse and his beautiful wife Rosemary as they try to start their life together. They find the perfect New York City apartment and decide it is the right time to have a child.

Although the basic plot does not provide an inkling into the twisted and perverse heart of this story, trust me when I say it is far more disturbing than any contemporary text. This novel examines the deep-rooted fear that your most intimate relationships are not what they seem.

Levin plays with the heteronormative nuclear family and presents to the reader a sinister world where sexism meets witchcraft and culminates in the most spinetingling end of a novel I have ever read.

Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca

Rebecca is a gothic classic that will transport you to a world of mystery and haunting figures. It follows a young woman as she meets and quickly marries the wealthy Maxime De Winter. Now Mrs De Winter, she is transported to the ominous estate of Manderley. De Winter soon realises that her seemingly idyllic relationship has a dark past. While she struggles with the legacy of the beautiful Rebecca, Maxime’s dead wife, and the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers, she soon finds herself very alone.

Mrs De Winter as the endearing narrator recounts the story and her surroundings with intricate detail. It creates a hauntingly atmospheric novel, that although written in the 1930s, is an easily accessible read. With elements from other works like Jane Eyre, Rebecca is an important novel that has become essential within the gothic genre.

Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Looking for a sinister, psychological thriller to grip you during Halloween? Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest could be your match!

Set in the labyrinth of a mental asylum, Kesey tracks the trials and tribulations of the inmates against the all-powerful Nurse Ratched. Themes of power, class, insanity and leadership are all present in the novel, proving it as a thrilling, immersive read.

Kesey also comments on how unjust persecution can lead to division and hostility within society. The ‘cracked pots of society’ (page 204) typically should not rebel and remain subservient to Ratched.

But, our protagonist McMurphy tantalises the reader with his powerful tricks and deception of Nurse Ratched, empowering his fellow inmates up until the last pages of the novel. Reminiscent of Margret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, the portrayal of escape from the walls of the institution leads to a thrilling, empowering account of perseverance. So, will you pick up this dystopian stroke of genius?

Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber

In this collection of ten short stories, Angela Carter takes traditional fairy tales and infuses them with horror. Think a murderous Little Red Riding Hood, a raunchy Puss-in-Boots, a vampiric Sleeping Beauty. Carter explores themes of gender, power, and violence through her dark retellings of childhood bedtime favourites.

Not only is it enjoyable on the surface, but it’s also a staple piece of feminist literature. The enchanting language, gothic imagery and rich symbolism make it perfect for anyone wanting to read classics without having to slog through a dull read. With each tale as twisted as the last, this is the perfect book to both enthral and disturb you over Halloween.

Franz Kafka: The Trial

Whilst not a typical horror, Franz Kafka’s The Trial will certainly leave you horrified. A twisting and turning narrative that will forever leave you guessing, the terror of this novel is in just how disconcerting it is.

The book follows Josef K, a man arrested for a completely unknown crime by a vague and mysterious government. He attempts to make his way through a circular justice system, descending deeper and deeper into ridiculousness and confusion.

Josef K’s powerlessness in the face of an authority that he has no idea about, accused of a crime he has no idea about leaves us as readers feeling completely at a loss. If you looking for a classic novel with a disconcerting air, look no further.

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