Happy Halloween! Tonight, as the sky darkens and the streets fill with costumed ghosts, ghouls and witches, curl up on the couch with one of our terrifying literary treats. Here are Kohl’s Top 5 HallowReads:
1) The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
Many moons ago I wrote my Higher English book report on this novel. Since, I’ve read it countless times. For me, this novel is the ultimate horror story. The reader is thrust into a dystopian nightmare – the theocratic Republic of Gilead – where women of the lower classes are used as reproductive vessels for sterile wealthy women. Forced to have sex with their masters in ritualistic ceremonies, the handmaids are subjected to heartbreaking forms of emotional and physical abuse while their masters’ wives watch on (these scenes are incredibly disturbing). Through the point of view of Offred (protagonist handmaid), Atwood depicts a world where women are valued, and devalued, solely on account of their bodies. Sound familiar? Just this week the ugly face of cat-calling and street harassment was exposed in a YouTube video by advocacy group Hollaback!, which resulted in rape threats directed at the actress in the video. This book is all the more horrifying because we see glimpses of its message all around us. A true cautionary tale. Lesley.
2) The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters)
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2009), Waters’ gothic novel is creepiness at its very best. Set in a shabby 18th century mansion in 1940s England, the story sees a humble country doctor, Faraday (our narrator), strike up a friendship with the mansion owners, the Ayres, who are in financial ruins. As a wavering romance emerges between Faraday and Caroline Ayres, strange happenings begin to occur around the rundown rooms of the house. This is the perfect ghostly treat for Halloween. Lesley.
3) The Shining (Stephen King)
I had to sleep with the light on after reading this. I’ve read most of King’s work and he’s written nothing else to touch this for sheer terror and unease. The common thread among these books is the potential not for a heroic battle against a terrifying monster, but the possibility that we are the worst villains we can imagine. In King’s original novel, the biggest problem the Torrances face is not the haunted hotel, it is Jack himself, who does not see monsters like his son, but who becomes the monster. Leila.
4) We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
This disturbing novel is chilling in its adoption of a very common problem and twisting it into a nightmare. The narrator does not want a child, she eventually agrees to have one while worrying about how it will affect her business, her lifestyle and her sense of self. These are emotions many women and indeed men can connect with, and her problems are normal and day to day, until her son is born. The challenge in this novel is whether you continue to find the narrator empathetic, if you believe her when she says that her baby is not normal and that he is, in fact, evil. The author leads you one way and then the other, and the takeaway message is that you will never be sure, you will always question your parenting and your choices, no matter what your child might eventually do. I don’t think it gets much scarier than that. Leila.
5) The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
I’ve been watching The Walking Dead and it’s notable how post-apocalyptic books always include people who eat other people – not just the zombies, but frequently the survivors too. It’s the most horrifying thing we can imagine, and it’s all too easy to understand how people could lose sense of humanity after a huge crisis. It is impossible to find a post-apocalyptic novel where the remaining humans band together to genuinely try to help each other, they always descend into infighting and treachery. The Road just does this particularly well and in unusually spare prose, allowing you to fill in the blanks yourself. Leila.
What scares you silly? Is it the inhumanity of man, haints or just a great toothy monster? Add your ideas in the comments!
Main image: Steinar Johnsen