With Halloween tomorrow, we asked Jonathan O’Brien to put together a list of the scariest books he could think of. Ever since, he’s been cowering under his desk muttering something about the Elder Gods and Triffids coming to get him…
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (the Elder Gods)
Some people hate Lovecraft’s dense prose, the way his stories tensely build and the author’s twisted imagination. Those people will, after a quick blindfolding and a boat ride, find themselves under the sea facing the rise of Cthulhu. “Not scary, is it?” I’ll shout. “Not so old-fashioned and rubbish now, eh?” Then we’ll both be consumed by the indiscriminate horrors of the Elder Gods, unimaginably old beings that live outside our universe.
Or I’ll just accept that different people have different tastes. Just like Nyarlathotep has the taste for people who don’t appreciate Lovecraft’s fiction.
(Although I can’t really argue against you if you don’t like Lovecraft for ideological reasons…)
The Day of the Triffids (Triffids, and humans)
Have you ever stayed up late to watch a meteor shower? The beautiful streaks of light that pass across the night sky? I haven’t. I will never watch a meteor shower because if I do then I’ll wake up blind the next morning and Triffids will kill me. That’s right, this book has left such an impression that it’s made me afraid of natural, beautiful cosmic events. But it’s not just the Triffids that I’m afraid of. It’s everyone. All the people who are just waiting for society to fall apart so they can take charge. I know they’re somewhere out there. Waiting.
I Am Legend (Vampires)
No other vampire novel is as good as I Am Legend. The last man on Earth against what is essentially a new species of human. The night scenes, as the vampires taunt him from outside his house, are horrible and the book ends in the only way horror stories should. The film, however, can do one.
American Pyscho (Patrick Bateman)
We’ve all read books or seen films where people get killed but it’s the sheer distance between Bateman and everybody else that really does it. There are moments where he’s aware of the terrible things he’s doing but manages to rationalise it with an unnerving emotional detachment. It’s not that he’s so crazy he’s unaware of himself, it’s the way he seems to be doing it “just because”.
The Trial (Whoever’s controlling Josef K’s fate)
For most of my life I’ve been terrified of being wrongfully arrested and not being able to prove my innocence so, when I read the opening line of the The Trial; “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” I knew I’d be in for a rough time. There’s no particular horrifying villain, there’s no “big moment” where you can barely continue reading, it’s the constant sense of confusion, powerlessness and fear throughout the entire book that make it so terrifying.
The Haunting of Hill House (Ghosts)
Just like I Am Legend is the only vampire book, this is the only haunted house book. There are no knife-wielding maniacs chasing people or demonic possessions, just a slow and subtle sense of dread. Hill House is more about how people react in strange circumstances rather than any actual paranormal phenomena and it still manages to be scarier than most other ghost books.
House of Leaves (The entire book)
Just read it. I won’t ruin it for you by saying anything else than just read it.
Jonathan O’Brien, for Waterstones.com/blog
Tell us what your most terrifying Halloween read is in the comments below…