Ten Spectacular Spine-Chilling Reads

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From gothic classics to modern murders, these brilliant works of fiction are as captivating as they are creepy

As Halloween approaches, why not eschew the temptation of ghoulish rituals such as faux blood and fancy dress in favour of a candlelit evening and a thrilling read? From gothic classics to modern murders and unsolved mysteries, these brilliant works of fiction are as captivating as they are creepy. Without further ado...  

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Originally published anonymously, Mary Shelley’s masterpiece is the quintessential horror story but is also credited as one of the first examples of science fiction. The novel was the result of a challenge set between Shelley (then Godwin), her lover and soon-to-be husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori to see who could create the most terrifying story.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s morality tale charts the hedonistic descent of the beautiful and bright Dorian Gray. Yet, instead of his misdemeanours in opium dens and fickle approach to love showing on his face, it is a glorious painting by artist Basil Hallward which decays to reflect Dorian’s life choices. The ending is a fantastically chilling comeuppance. We also highly recommend Will Self’s modern take on the story in which Victorian tropes are replaced by modern art and AIDs

3. The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
A short yet terrifying narrative courtesy of Marghanita Laski sees a privileged young housewife transported back in time from the promise of the 1950s to depths of illness and deprivation in 1864. The twist of the dagger comes as lines are blurred and terrible discoveries are made. The novel has been heroically republished by Persephone Books. 

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This utterly captivating novel explores the ability of the dead to continue to rule over the lives of those they’ve left behind, in this case in a highly manipulative manner. The narrator is an innocent young woman who becomes the second wife of Maximillian de Winter. The ensuing events chart her disturbing discoveries about de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, and a unnervingly complex legacy.

5. Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr
A story of ambition and promise descending into a spiral of mental illness, addiction and crime. Written in 1978, the themes of Hubert Selby Jr’s novel seem just as pertinent and startlingly possible today as forty years ago. Darren Aronofsky’s acclaimed 2000 film adaptation starring Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly also comes highly-recommended. 

6. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
A potent combination of Armani tailoring, of-the-moment restaurants, grotesque murder and cannibalism define the debauched life of investment banker Patrick Bateman. Described in horrifying detail by Bret Easton Ellis, this is a book which gives a repulsive veneer to New York glamour. 

7. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Lauren Beukes has arguably redefined horror as a very modern genre. Detroit is the setting for Beukes’ latest work Broken Monsters which explores the interwoven narrative of four characters; a detective, her teen daughter, an online journalist and a murderer. Cleverly thought-provoking contemporary themes combine with all the terror of a timeless horror classic. 

8. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
A masterful play on the motifs of evil neighbours, isolation and a mother’s instinct, Rosemary’s Baby infuses the very real hopes, dreams and struggles of an ambitious young couple with horrendous undertones of witchcraft and devilry. The novel inspired the iconic Roman Polanski film, starring Mia Farrow, as well as a mini series last year which moved the action from New York to Paris with Zoe Saldana taking the lead role.

9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s astonishing debut novel is an epic recreation of a Greek tragedy, set in an esteemed institution – Hampden College – within deepest Vermont. The cast is an eclectic group of six Classics students whose obsession with their subject leads to ritualistic recreations which go disturbingly wrong. This is a slow-burn kind of horror as wrong upon wrong gradually unravels amidst previously innocent lives.

10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
We finish with a gothic classic in which layers of narrative create confusion, suspense and intrique in equal measure. The Turn of the Screw riffs on Victorian class etiquette, with the governess taking a central role as a mystery unfolds against the backdrop of her employers’ country residence. This is just the sort of story to whisper by candlelight.