Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Top 5... Horror Novels

It takes two things to make a decent horror novel.  First, the author has to convince you that everything you're reading is real.  If you can't believe in the characters, the setting or the plot, then their second task is impossible.  The second task being, of course, to scare you rigid.  Below are my five personal favourites, taken from the last century or so of horror fiction.  I highly recommend you read them all.  But not too late at night...

5. The Shining by Stephen King
Let's be honest.  I could fill several Top 5 lists with works by Stephen King.  So I'm exercising an enormous amount of self-restraint by including just one of his many horror masterpieces in this countdown.  I've selected The Shining not just because it is one of the best (and most affecting) horror stories I've ever read, but also because it comes from very early on in King's career; it is a raw and potent example of the skill that he would continue to hone over the next three decades.
Runners-up for Stephen King's slot were Salem's Lot, Bag of Bones, Desperation and Duma Key.

4. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill
A modern nightmare from horror heir Joe Hill.  Judas Coyne is an ageing rockstar with a collection of occult objects.  When he buys a genuine ghost on the Internet, gift wrapped in a heart-shaped box, Jude unwittingly opens a door to his own troubled past.  Hill's second novel Horns was a devilish tour-de-force with strokes of black humour, but his debut Heart Shaped Box is a genuinely disturbing read.

3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This particular ghost story invented many of the last century's horror staples.  A haunted house, spooky children, and a naive central character who finds herself caught up in events that may or may not be of a paranormal nature.  Is the governess in this Gothic tale the victim of malignant spirits, or her own hysteria? To this day, I remain unsure.

2. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
A bullied adolescent boy, a pale and strange girl, a cold and unforgiving urban landscape and an endless thirst for blood make this one of the most original and entertaining horror stories of the last ten years.  Adapted into a film in its native Sweden and more recently the United States, Let The Right One In revels in its 1980s setting, chronicling the highs and lows of childhood along with the chilling reality of what life might be like for a vampire waif.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
These days, the young Mary Godwin might be dismissed as an emo poseur, similar to Effy "Skins" Stonem.  But back in the day, she was the young bride of Peter Shelley and a creative genius - Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus is a work of incredible imagination, full of ideas that are still relevant today (humankind's interference with nature, science vs religion etc.).  The truly scary thing about this novel is not the Creature itself, but rather the very fact of its existence - here is the story of something which never should have been, and Victor Frankenstein must face the consequences of playing God.

If this were a longlist, I'd include Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the second half of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (seriously, Voldemort's resurrection and the murder of Cedric were truly unsettling as a kid).

1 comment:

  1. I want to read "The Turn of the Screw" now. I've only read one Henry James book, but I loved it.