Welcome to 6 Reads, where we pick out 6 top novels of a given theme. The twist this week is that our reviewers are one human (Audra Figgins) and one canine (Ouija the Goldendoodle) - who together run their own bookstagram page. Their chosen theme is - horror-adjacent novels...
We love some scary: horror novels and movies, haunted houses, cemeteries, things that go bump in the night—bring it on.
One thing we’ve noticed about reading horror is that it seems more fluid than other genres, bending in and out of sci-fi and dark fantasy and hosting elements of comedy, coming-of-age, and even character-driven drama, among others. One of our favourite facets is what we’ve come to call horror adjacent—books that aren’t technically “horror,” but still host a complement of speculative themes and general darkness.
If you think you might be interested to try something on the dark side (join us!) but aren’t quite ready to fully immerse yourself in horror, these are my picks for dipping your toe in the murky waters. But you never know what’s underneath, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
#1 Severance by Ling Ma: Goodreads 3.8
“The past is a black hole, cut into the present day like a wound, and if you come too close, you can get sucked in. You have to keep moving. "
One of our top ten reads of 2018, this book surprised, delighted, and scared us - in the sense that it made us examine ourselves to the point of existential ennui. We’d pitch it as an apocalyptic coming-of-age novel for millennials—but this book really has so much going on. With themes of anti-consumerism, the immigrant experience, the meaninglessness of office jobs, and a darkly satirical tongue-in-cheek narrative style poking fun at the lackadaisical nature of our generation, Ling Ma manages to write a compelling story that says a lot about modern-day society.
#2 The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg: Goodreads 3.3
“Horror films had taught her that a person could will a thing into existence, but once it was outside their consciousness, the consciousness that had been busily inventing simultaneous possibilities, it became a force unto itself, ferocious and uncontrollable."
This book is a phantasmagoria of grief, marriage and relationships, travel, horror tropes, film, memory and the psyche, and ultimately, the search for self. It follows a woman attending a horror film festival in Cuba as she attempts to come to some sort of peace about her husband’s death - but then, she sees him. Or does she? It has the dreamlike propulsion of Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, but with more narrative flow like Daphne du Maurier’s psychologically haunting story, Don’t Look Now.
#3 White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi: Goodreads 3.6
"But then, maybe “I don’t believe in you” is the cruelest way to kill a monster."
Oyeyemi has to be one of the most inventive and unique contemporary authors we've ever read. She’s interested in classic fairytales and how she can twist and manipulate them into modern situations with her own inimitable flair. This book follows a pair of twins living in the wake of their mother’s death and trying to prepare for life outside of their childhood home. But their family isn’t normal, and neither is their house - sometimes the house even takes a turn narrating the book! A perfect starting point to give this author a try.
#4 The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick: Goodreads 3.5
“Am I, this trembling, hallucinating ball of sinew, really any stranger of a creature, any more improbable of an object, than a ghost?"
The “haunted house” subgenre is our favourite, so we're always seeking out new reads in this area. Dolnick’s entry, while not necessarily scary, tops the list for most original and thought-provoking haunting narratives. How do ghosts haunt (if they even do) and how might a space become haunted? Is it something your own mind creates due to emotional disturbance? Something enacted upon you by an outside force? This one will get you thinking.
#5 The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark: Goodreads 3.6
“I never trust the airlines from those countries where the pilots believe in the afterlife. You are safer when they don't.”
This incredibly chilling powerhouse piece of writing is a showcase of the power of short fiction. I found this tale of a woman going on vacation with a strange ultimatum in mind very much in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s writing. The use of foreshadowing is some of the most shocking and perfectly positioned, creating tension you could cut with a knife, tension that continues to rise up into your throat as you keep reading. And the ending . . . well—you really just need to read it.
#6 Twilight by William Gay: Goodreads 3.9
“She was a page torn from a calendar, a year folded neatly and laid aside in some place you never look."
Truly an underrated Southern Gothic author, William Gay stunned me when I first read this book. His portrayal of language is unlike any other; “poetic” doesn’t quite encompass the true grit, the realistic introspection that he evokes with every line. Apply that to a tale about two young siblings who bury their father, discover a horrible secret about the undertaker, and embark on a mad and dark journey to redemption, and that makes this one an all-time favourite for me.
Audra and Ouija run their fun bookstagram account @ouija.doodle.reads. They live in Boulder, Colorado in the US.