Posts Tagged ‘Susan Hill’

Broken Hours

Last week, I wrote briefly about five children’s books that scared the bejeesus out of me. Now, I’d like to share some of my favourite spooky books for grown-ups, just in time for All Hallow’s Read. The idea is that you give out scary books to people on Halloween, so that they have something suitably atmospheric to read. To learn more about All Hallow’s Read check out the website: http://www.allhallowsread.com/

My recommendations are going to run the gamut on this one, from atmospheric ghost stories to postmodern genre mashups to Lovecraftian stories of cosmic dread.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker: An atmospheric and creepy tale about Arthor P. Crandle, a young writer down on his luck hired as a personal assistant to none other than H.P. Lovecraft, wizard of the Weird. The prose is incredibly eloquent and Baker manages to create an atmosphere of tension and gloom, but also of loneliness and loss. You can find hauntings, tentacles, and clever twists in this beautiful book.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: Chilling and tragic. Tiffany Murray is a marvellous storyteller. Drawing on local tales, Murray builds a world in which tragedy echoes through generations and is connected to a dark family history. The story is set in 1955 on the Welsh/English border, but a malevolent spirit has been on the premises of the declining estate for much longer than the current occupants. The story takes its inspiration from the legend of the Black Boy of Littledean Hall. Super creepy. Also super creepy? This new book trailer for Sugar Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTQTL7_S-Wk

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: I wrote my Master’s thesis on this novel, and while it definitely has some pretty big problems, there is no denying that the Navidson house story line is absolutely terrifying. The Navidson’s discover that their house is bigger on the inside than on the outside, manage to cope with the sudden appearance of a door that leads to a dark passageway that changes shape and size, and then embark upon an expedition to explore the passage. Bad things ensue. Add to that the absolutely brilliant and utterly disorienting layout of the book, and the spooky qualities of the accompanying “soundtrack” by Danielewski’s recording artist sister, Poe, and you have all the makings of a freaky read.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill: Written as an exercise in genre, this novella is conventional but exceedingly effective. The isolated and dreary landscape, the imposing architecture, the restraint of the characters, the palpable fear of the townspeople, the repressed grief of the protagonist… all of the elements of Victorian Gothic are here. The film version is also very well done, managing to avoid the gore that so many horror films are dependent upon now.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: I’m not usually one for reading crime stories, but this is the story of a time-travelling serial killer and the one woman who survived him. It’s an absolutely cracking read, and I must say that during the climactic scene in the novel the sense of dread was so visceral that at many points I wanted to put the book down because I wasn’t sure I could face what was coming. Despite my desire to escape the inevitable horror, I was compelled to continue reading and couldn’t make myself look away. So, even though this isn’t a horror novel, per se, I found it absolutely horrifying (in a good way).

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: This was a single-sitting read for me. It’s got that “unity of effect” that Poe (old E.A., not the musician mentioned above) wrote about, and it’s got that Lovecraftian sense of cosmic dread. A team from the Southern Reach organization embarks on an expedition into the mysterious Area X. The story is intense and uncanny, and will leave you breathless in anticipation of the second book, Authority, which will in turn leave you breathless for the third book, Acceptance. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

I also have a pile of books I intend to read over the dark winter months here in the frozen north, many of which have the potential to be terrifying. And who knows? They may make next year’s list:

The Winter People by Jennifer Mahon

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The House on Haunted Hill by Shirley Jackson (don’t ask me why it’s taken so long to get around to this one)

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue


Read Full Post »



This post was originally going to be a “top 5 books” I had the most fun reading this year. Clearly, I too much of a good time, because there were so many fun books I was loathe to exclude that the post is now a top 10 in two parts. If I was still working at the bookshop, these are the titles I would handsell dozens of. Like a boss.

Nick Harkaway – Angelmaker (Alfred A. Knopf): This book was an absolute blast! It is raucous and original. Mild-mannered clockworker with gangster heritage, octogenarian former super-spy with ugly pug sidekick, super-villain with creepy minions, elegant doomsday machine with… bees. What more could you ask for? The writing is snappy and funny, and the book is chock-a-block with great characters. If you’re looking for a bit of clever fun, look no further. The book is so good that months later, I am still thinking about it and chuckling about some of the best bits. Seriously. Just buy it. It’s fantastic.

Dan Rhodes – Little Hands Clapping  (Canongate): By turns macabre, hilarious, moving, and disturbing, this is the perfect novel for those people on your shopping list who are a bit dark and twisted. Set primarily in a German suicide museum, the story weaves together the tales of the museum’s caretaker, its patrons, its visitors/victims, and a local doctor. Two of the main characters are rather sinister and conspire in disturbing ways, breaking taboos that some readers might have a tough time stomaching. But, there is also a very charming love story and several fascinating characters. The story can be gruesome, but it is also enchanting and funny. It is a rather macabre fairy tale and a refreshingly original read.

Missy Marston – The Love Monster (Vehicule Press): This darkly hilarious tale of Margaret H. Atwood (not to be confused with the writer) is wonderfully lively and honest about the miseries of our quotidian existence. It is an excellent character study of Margaret (separated, psoriasis-riddled, bad job, bad attitude, and observed by aliens) and the people in her orbit, as well as an astute catalogue of many types of love (good and bad, romantic, platonic, familial, etc.). The conclusion was a bit “Hollywood happy-ending”, brought about by a deus ex machina (or more properly, an alien ex ufo), but it works because the bulk of the story isn’t sickly sweet. By the end, the reader is really rooting for Margaret, foibles and all. The story is incredibly well written – snappy and funny and poignant – and is a pleasant change from usually dour Canadian fiction. One of my favourite CanLit reads of the year.

Susan Hill – The Small Hand (Profile Books): Okay, this is “fun” in the way that having the bejesus scared out of you can be fun. Hill is a master of the ghost story novella, as evinced by The Woman in Black. However, the story here is more masterful than the Gothic exercise that her first ghost story was. Still here though, are the tropes of the isolated, dilapidated house, the tragic death of a child, and the questionable psychological state of the protagonist. Woven into this conventional tapestry are threads of memory, guilt, and dread. This is a first rate ghost story, tense and well-wrought, and suitable for gobbling up in a single sitting on a cold, dark, winter’s night.

Jasper Fforde – The Eyre Affair (Penguin): Again (as with The Book Thief in the previous post), I’m way behind on this one. I’ve had it on my shelf for years, and just never got around to it, as is often the case with books I’m quite certain I will enjoy. I’m sure there’s a word for that particular syndrome, and if there isn’t, there should be. In any case, this was great fun to read. It’s the action-packed story of Thursday Next, a Special Operative in literary detection, who gets caught up trying to solve case involving the kidnappings of literary characters from the pages of their books, particularly one Jane Eyre. It’s funny, surreal, and full of literary jokes. What’s not to like? If you are already on the Jasper Fforde bandwagon, the seventh book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot, is available now.



Read Full Post »