I’m not one for horror. In fact, my list of what I personally consider scary is probably akin to that of a six-year-old. Don’t ask me to screen your favorite Tarantino with you or binge-watch Stranger Things or spend the evening at Knott’s Scary Farm. In fact, I will need to get the play-by-play for most visual entertainment labeled “Thriller.” That said, I’ve always been able to read just about anything. Three cheers for books! With Halloween on the horizon, I put together a list of some of my favorite spooky reads—whether or not they actually send a chill down your spine.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Other than “The Lottery,” this is the first piece of Shirley Jackson’s work that I’d had a chance to read! Merricat Blackwood, her sister Constance, and their Uncle Julien live tucked away in the woods in the family manor. Isolated after word got out that the majority of the Blackwood family died thanks to a sugar bowl laced with arsenic, they live in a tense stand-off with the rest of the village. In the six years since the murder splashed across the front page, the Blackwoods have few visitors. Yet when their long-absent cousin Charles comes to stay, the household’s tentative balance is forever altered. I especially love Merricat Blackwood’s feral, childish perspective (it’s hard to remember she’s supposedly 18) and Jackson’s sparse, but evocative, descriptions.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Patrick Süskind’s novel was a gift from my math tutor when she was clearing out her room the summer before she set off for college, and I’ve read it twice since then! That super boring fact aside, this book is perfect for this time of year. Set in 18th century France, Süskind’s protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with a gifted sense of smell. Able to articulate complex scents, Grenouille becomes an apprentice perfumer, but quickly turns to murder in pursuit of distilling the unique scent of a young woman. I found the novel chilling in turns, historically fascinating, and then just plain gross—the process of capturing the scent of human beings is…not exactly fun.
Interview with the Vampire
I was seriously obsessed with Ann Rice in high school. Interview with the Vampire centers on Louis de Pointe du Lac, a 200-year-old vampire, who decides to tell his life story to a human reporter. Recounting his youth as a plantation heir in Louisiana, Louis reveals how he became a vampire at the hands (or fangs) of the enigmatic Lestat. The pair move to New Orleans, eventually turning a lost little girl. Creating a vampire child has devasting effects, and the trio weaves their way from New Orleans to France, as Louis searches for meaning in his living death. It sounds pretty cheesy, and I will say that Louis is a philosophical whiner, but it’s my favorite vampire tale.
Fire & Hemlock
This entire post could easily be an ode to Diana Wynne Jones, but I’ll narrow it down to one book: Fire & Hemlock. While packing for university, Polly Whittacker realizes her perfectly ordinary life isn’t exactly as it seems. As Polly unearths a second set of memories, she remembers gate-crashing a posh funeral as a little girl where she meets violinist Thomas Lynne. The tale deep dives into Polly memories, and the reader discovers how the unlikely pair become pen pals, developing a friendship based on books and installments of heroic misadventures featuring their alter egos that become eerily realistic as time passes. Based on the Scottish ballad “Tam Lin,” Fire & Hemlock is hard to explain, but one of my absolute favorite books of all time. Read it! Love it!
Her Fearful Symmetry
I’ll admit that I didn’t love this one as much as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel made me want to work at Highgate Cemetery. Twins Julia and Valentina Poole inherit their aunt Elspeth’s apartment in Highgate after her death on the condition that they commit to living there for at least a year. The Pooles travel to London, quickly becoming enmeshed in the life of the building and the cemetery itself, while Elspeth’s ghost attempts to hang onto her old life. If you’re interested in Highgate’s history, Her Fearful Symmetry makes for a compelling, fictional starter pack.
I could keep going, but there are only so many days in October! What about you? Reading anything spooky?