Looking to get into the spooky spirit before Halloween arrives? Scan this list of the creepiest, most unnerving books written by women to find yourself a dark new read.
Halloween is fast approaching, and we’re SO ready to binge watch and read all the scary content we possibly can. We already know all about the fantastic collection of scary movies available on Netflix, but if you prefer to get your spooky content via the pages of a book, this list has got you covered.
Why not spend Halloween 2019 discovering and championing some amazing female writers while you scare yourself silly? From the original horror story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley to 20th century tales of the unexpected from Shirley Jackson and Octavia E Butler’s nightmarish sci-fi via modern-day writers such as Laura Purcell, Helen Oyeyemi and Kirsty Logan, get ready to enter a realm of psychological terrors and dark, dark stories.
Prepare to sleep with the light on after you’ve perused the pages of these seriously creepy books: don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
With shades of Daphne Du Maurier and Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw, this is the perfect winter read. Newly widowed, Elsie, heads to her misfortunate husband’s estate only to discover cowering local villagers and a household of distrusting relatives and servants. There’s a locked door, whispers of family curses and strange painted figures plus a grating noise that Elsie just can’t quite track down…
When we read this, we woke up at 3am, heart pounding, straining to hear what sounded like something being dragged across the ceiling. Read at your peril.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
“I’m interested in the gaps and ghosts in the historical record, the people who flit through the background leaving the scent of untold stories on the air, the events for which the evidence is fragmentary.”
Sarah Moss’ slight-but-haunting Ghost Wall is a brilliant exercise in dark suspense that leaves you shuddering at the possibilities. Teenager Silvie is dragged to the darkest depths of Northumberland by her father who wants to recreate the realities of Iron Age life but myths and rumours begin to surface as past rituals begin to make themselves known…
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Forget the film which tried to capture the sheer terror of Susan Hill’s writing because nothing could do it justice (although the theatre version comes close). Written with fear-inducing precision, the Woman in Black is the spectre of a woman who’s said to appear just before the death of a child. Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is drawn into her story and discovers the truth for himself – with absolutely devastating results.
Kindred by Octavia E Butler
Marrying time travel with the horrifying reality of slavery in 1800s Maryland, Octavia E Butler’s Kindred is unlike anything you’ll ever read (although Stephen King’s 11.22.63 owes it a huge debt). Dana is a black woman in Seventies America married to Kevin, a white man. One day, Dana becomes dizzy and finds herself transported back to a slave plantation where a white family brutalises their black slaves in the worst ways imaginable. Moving back and forth in time by herself and with her husband Kevin, Butler traps Dana in a nightmarish era when monsters came in human form. (See also Butler’s vampire tale, Fledgling.)
The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The inspiration for the recent Netflix series, The Haunting Of Hill House is a descent into real fear. Hill House is famous for its inhabitants meeting violent deaths or committing suicide. Fascinated by its history, supernatural investigator Dr Montague invites other people to witness its power including Eleanor, a shy young woman, who seems to experience strange phenomena other guests aren’t aware of… Full of strange incidents and creepy imagery (never has hand-holding been so terrifying), this is one book that won’t leave your imagination any time soon.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?’”
What many consider to be the original horror story was conceived by Mary Shelley when she was aged just 18. Aside from the story itself – which is both fiendish and heartbreaking (the abandoned Creature teaching itself to read and befriending a family is so sad) – the book’s themes of motherhood, love and loss are made all the more poignant when taking into account Shelley’s own life (losing her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, as a baby and her own repeated miscarriages).
I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Causing widespread fear in its original country of Iceland, I Remember You is a chilling tale told over two narratives. The first centres round three city friends converting an abandoned house (it’s empty for a reason) and, in the second, a psychiatrist (who’s plagued by the disappearance of his own son) is investigating a suicide… What follows is a deep delve into Icelandic folklore and possibly one of the scariest reads you’ll ever pick up.
White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi’s writing often incorporates myths, legends, fairy tales and ghosts to tackle issues of racism and in White Is For Witching, it’s a house of horror that is openly hostile to its inhabitants (apart from one). At the heart of the story are two twins, Miranda and Eliot, whose mother has recently died and, at the age of 16, Miranda’s pica (eating chalk, hair, paper) rages out of control… Filled with dread and foreboding, this a modern horror story to leave you reeling.
(£9.99, Pan Macmillan)
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
In 1846, the Donner party – a group of American pioneers – left Missouri for California in search of a better life. However, in the winter of 1846-47, they found themselves stranded in the snow-covered mountains of Sierra Nevada after a series of mistakes. As members succumbed to starvation and sickness and food ran low, the survivors were forced to stay alive any way they could…
Considered one of America’s greatest tragedies, Katsu’s tale will leave you shuddering at what was to come.
Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan
This new collection of creepy tales will go down as a feminist must-read, mixing together shades of folklore with desire, motherhood, violence and, at times, dark, dark humour. Broken into three separate sections: The House (no sanctuary in these homes), The Child and The Past, these stories are of broken people and otherworldly sinister happenings and all will leave you unnerved.
The Bus On Thursday by Shirley Barrett
Never has a horror book been so funny… Eleanor Mellett’s fiance is leaving her and she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer plus her mother is driving her mad. So she decides to up and leave her life and move to a remote town and become their primary school teacher. But, the previous Miss Barker has disappeared without a trace, Eleanor keeps seeing a demonic bus that wants to run her off the road, there are strange tappings on the back door and the locals are proving unhinged.
Images: Supplied by publishers
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown