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James Han Mattson on His Favourite Dark and Disturbing Reads

Posted on 4th October 2021 by Mark Skinner

A breathtaking mash-up of horror, thriller and dark satire, James Han Mattson's disquieting Reprieve is one of our favourite spine-tinglers of the year. In this exclusive piece, the author recommends five books that span various different genres yet all have one thing in common: a profound ability to create a sense of lingering unease. 

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

This is Clive Barker’s first novel, and my favorite by a long-shot, partly because it feels very contained, and partly because the twisted horror scenes are so creative. A completely absorbing and chilling tale about a Faustian bargain gone awry, the book is full of haunting and macabre imagery, and left me feeling unsettled long after I turned the last page.

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One of the masters of modern horror unleashes a terrifying vision of a feckless chancer toying with Hell itself in a disturbing Faustian pact in this superbly constructed chiller.
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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I knew nothing about this book when I first picked it up. From the first few pages, it seemed as though it’d be a story about a very dysfunctional mother-son relationship, one where the mother’s detachment might present future problems. I didn’t know what creepy, dark turns it would take: though there are clear hints early on that Kevin isn’t quite right, Shriver is never heavy-handed with his character. Because of this, I found myself making excuses for him, chalking his disturbing misdeeds up to teenage rebellion, and this made the grisly penultimate scene that much more devastating. I felt, at the end, complicit.  

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The absorbing, stunningly accomplished novel that provoked and astounded in equal measure, Shriver’s devastating narrative of a mother trying to come to terms with her son’s murderous rampage is one of the most singular achievements of twenty-first century fiction.
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The Changeling by Victor LaValle

This book delivers on so many fronts. It’s deeply disturbing and profoundly moving, exploring issues of family and parenthood while barreling through a world of intense supernatural menace. There are very few authors who can blend the magical with the real so effortlessly, but LaValle is one of them, and this is him in top form.

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An anxious father is sent on an uncanny quest through an otherworldly New York in LaValle's febrile, disorientating allegory of parenthood and paranoia.
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Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. 

Unrelenting and brutal. Definitely not the most pleasant reading experience (it felt, very often, like someone screaming directly in my ear), but unforgettable nonetheless. 

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Notorious and iconic, Last Exit to Brooklyn leads the reader on a visceral journey though the degradation and depravity of 1960s New York in the company of some truly unforgettable characters.
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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

One of the strangest and most riveting books I’ve read in a long time. Watching the main character, Yeong-Hye, descend into madness is both horrifying and fascinating. The writing is sumptuous and the images arresting. Highly recommend. 

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Mining a rich seam of quietly suffocating misogyny, control and mental health, Kang's beautiful, chilling story of a woman who makes an unpopular decision is an indisputable modern classic.
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