Source: Unsplash by Alisa Anton
Spooky, autumnal book recommendations to get you ready for Halloween and the darker evenings.
The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Shirley Jackson
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.
This is one of my favourite openings to a novel and if this doesn’t draw you in, I’m not sure what will. The Haunting of Hill House is a gothic novel that features classic horror elements such as strange noises, unexplained events and writing on the walls. However, the main terror and psychological unrest at the heart of the novel is achieved by Jackson’s attention to detail and character, whilst also remaining ambiguous and cryptic with the plot. A genuinely chilling, engrossing novel.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), Angela Carter
She herself is a haunted house. She does not possess herself; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening.
I’m not sure where to begin with Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. You can read the collection of stories in whichever order you please, not knowing if they will end in resolution and happiness, or anguish and gore. Carter’s language is consistently rich, evocative, and complex, as she transforms the fairy tale and combines gothic literary conventions into subversive tales full of violence, sexuality, and ornate symbolism.
O Caledonia (1991), Elspeth Barker
But the raw, sheer edge of her misery was blunted; she had learnt to cope, even to survive, by deviousness, by reading, and, as always, by day-dreaming.
Another piece of literature set in Scotland and written by a Scottish author, which I posit is a modern classic, O Caledonia is a gothic coming-of-age story following protagonist, Janet, a witty, mischievous, conflicted young girl.
It is redolent of Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (another favourite of mine!) with its themes of alienation, isolation and psychological disturbance. Similarly atmospheric, O Caledonia is largely set in a decaying castle with winds whipping around its decaying exterior.
Janet seeks connection and understanding from others without changing her values and principles to fit in. It is those around her who choose to alienate and mistreat Janet, causing her to harbour resentment and lack the ability to communicate herself to others, in a tormenting cycle. Instead, Janet embraces her darkness by daydreaming and escaping into books and the natural world.
O Caledonia is sharp, funny, tragic, and macabre. A perfect read for any time of year, but especially during the colder months.
Under the Skin (2000), Michel Faber
[S]he and they were all the same under the skin, weren’t they?
Michel Faber’s science-fiction novel, Under the Skin follows Isserley as she drives the motorways of the Scottish Highlands looking for men to pick up. While evidently an allegory for the meat industry, Under the Skin also questions what it is like to be human and offers an account of empathy and connection (or lack thereof) between others.
This self-conscious, dystopian novel highlights the barbarity of the human/animal relationship, by applying this logic to humans and forcing us to confront our lack of empathy towards other beings. Arguably, the most terrifying part of the novel is its subversion of the everyday by exposing otherwise unnoticed or ignored atrocities and activities that take place on a regular basis, out of plain sight.
TIP: Consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org, a book supplier that supports independent UK bookshops.
Alternatively, you could use World of Books to purchase secondhand (often cheaper!) books which are better for the environment.