Top 10 Spooky Books to Read this Halloween

Halloween is just one week away! This is one of my favourite times of year for many reasons, not least because it’s the perfect time to read some of my spooky favourites. I am obsessed with gothic and horror fiction, so I’ve compiled a top ten list of books that will set your blood to curdling. Why not try one this Halloween?

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of Stephen King. In fact, I’ve often been an outspoken critic of his writing style, which I find quite bland in comparison to other horror masters such as Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. Having said that, Pet Sematary really impressed me. Regarded as his scariest novel (even by King himself), the story follows the Creed family who relocate from Boston to an idyllic home in rural Maine. However, this utopia is torn apart when the family cat dies and is buried in a nearby cemetery; an event which unleashes a terrifying evil with appalling consequences.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Nothing beats a bit of Sherlock Holmes, and this is one of his best remembered adventures. It is the third novel to feature the famous detective, but don’t let this put you off as the book stands perfectly on its own and you don’t need backstory to enjoy it. Predominantly set on Dartmoor in Devon, it tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a diabolical hound. The isolated setting of the moors makes this a really atmospheric text. Even though creaky mansions and shivering moors may seem a bit cliché, if anyone can do the clichés justice it’s Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This novella recently inspired the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor, and it is one of the scariest stories I have ever read. The Turn of the Screw focuses on a governess who comes to a country estate to care for the two children who reside there, but soon becomes convinced the grounds are haunted. The genius of this story is the unanswered mystery of what is really happening. It is unclear as to whether the spooky events are real or all in the mind of the governess. This has left the text open to many discussions, debates, Freudian interpretations and questions around sanity and sexual repression. Not for the faint hearted, this story will get right under your skin.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

A fantastic piece of science fiction from the master himself, H.G. Wells. The titular invisible man, Griffin, has become an icon of the horror genre. Griffin is a scientist whose research and experiments in optics leads him to becoming invisible. He wraps himself in bandages and often dons a pair of glasses so that others may see him. After failing to reverse his invisibility, he gradually descends into madness. As with most of Wells’ work, the novel is way ahead of its time and the scientific explanation is well thought out and believable. But the lasting impact of this novel comes from the character Griffin, whose unpredictable and violent behaviour will have you sleeping with the light on.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I saw the Daniel Radcliffe film in cinema when I was fifteen which had me jumping out of my skin, and the book is even scarier. When a solicitor visits a small market town, he encounters the mysterious woman in black and unravels a twisted tale of death and revenge. Some of the description in this book is so vivid it lingers. One particular image of the woman stood on the lonely salt marsh with her face wasting away stayed with me for days. But the real cleverness of Susan Hill’s writing lies in her ability to terrify whilst saying very little at all; much of the horror occurs in your head rather than on the page.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Jekyll and Hyde began life as a penny dreadful, but has since gone on to achieve major significance. Its impact is such that most of us have used the phrase ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ when describing a dual personality, someone who is outwardly good but sometimes terribly evil. The book is about a London legal practitioner who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend Dr Henry Jekyll and the evil Mr Edward Hyde. The sinister tone is set in the opening pages, when Mr Hyde tramples over a young girl in the street. Hyde embodies everything we love about horror: an indescribable something that is both familiar and unfamiliar, a despicable creature whose ugliness you can’t quite explain.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece of decadence. It tells the story of Dorian who, enthralled by the beauty of his own portrait, sells his soul for eternal youth so that the portrait may age and wither while he remains young and beautiful. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton’s hedonistic lifestyle, Dorian is drawn into a corrupt double life as his painting grows uglier each day. What stands out to me is Wilde’s stunning prose which is vivid and sensual from the opening paragraph right through to the finale. But lying beneath Wilde’s charm and wit is a growing evil which manifests itself in the face of a decaying portrait in the attic.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s masterpiece challenged preconceptions about the way women should write, and this was during a time when many women were still writing under male pseudonyms. Far from the loveliness of Jane Austen, Frankenstein’s subject matter is truly hideous. What is most striking about the novel is how it differs from modern portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster, which I’ve always found a bit cheesy. Shelley’s creature is horrifying in his description, with yellow skin that barely covers the arteries beneath, watery eyes and jet black lips. With a real sense of tragedy in its finale, this book contains more horror and sadness than any film adaptation.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I was almost embarrassed by how much this book frightened me. I first read it around Halloween time a few years ago and some chapters left me too scared to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. In the beginning when Jonathan Harker visits Dracula’s castle, the reveal that the titular character is a vampire is, of course, no surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, the slow reveal of strange happenings around the castle is chilling to the bone. Like Frankenstein, I don’t think the media has done this book justice. There have been so many Dracula movies over the years and a good portion of them are ridiculous. However, Stoker’s original telling remains iconic. I challenge anyone not to feel a shiver down their spine at the first description of Dracula lay cold in his coffin with fresh blood on his lips.

Absolutely anything by Edgar Allan Poe!

And finally we have the Father of Fright himself, the Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. If you’re really wanting to get into the feel this Halloween, I cannot recommend anything better than one of Poe’s short stories or poems. Poe’s tales of mystery and misery are horrifying and beautiful in equal measure and his gift of telling spooky stories has influenced almost all contemporary horror authors. My favourite short stories of his are The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and The Masque of the Red Death. Just make sure you don’t read them when you’re home alone.

To all you bookish spooksters out there, I hope you have enjoyed my top 10 list. I love this genre and could have done a top 100 if I wanted to, so there are a few greats I haven’t had chance to mention. While trick or treating and costume parties might be off the table due to coronavirus, sitting in with a scary story is still a great way to celebrate this time of year.

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!

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