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List love 5: The most disturbing novels I have read

When I was posting about my Halloween-themed reads, I mentioned that I was planning to make a list of disturbing books. Well, here it is. As you can see, there are no outright horror novels on the list - instead they are mostly thrillers and suspense novels, the kind that can play endlessly with one’s imagination because one always tends to imagine things as being worse than they really are. A good writer can scare the living daylights out of the reader merely by using suggestion.

  • We have always lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. A tale of mental disintegration and murder, it is disturbing on several levels, from the cheerfully manipulative unreliable narrator, to the evil cousin, to the townspeople who turn into a lynch mob in the flash of a moment. Most of all, the atmosphere just keeps getting more thickly oppressive and creepy with each new chapter.
  • The Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks.The protagonist lives in a world of his own making, with strange but logical rules that seem perfectly normal to him, but scary and disturbing to the reader. Now that I think about it, I am pretty sure Banks was under the influence of We have always lived in the castle when he created this character, although the story is totally different.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Such a very bleak view of the future, one that seems ever more possible as it becomes more and more difficult to hide from the electronic media and a Big Brother of sorts is indeed monitoring people.
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Were the ghosts real or were they imaginary? Freaky either way, because if they were, the nanny had every reason to react as she did, and if they weren’t, the kids were manipulative little monsters. Mostly the atmosphere is just thickly oppressive and creepy.
  • The Legend of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Bad ghosts or crazy person imagining things? Hard to tell, but deeply disturbing either way, and again the atmosphere plays a big part.
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind. The protagonist is a sociopathic serial killer and yet you actually like him or at least root for him.
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell. Another dystopia novel that shows a disturbing look at human society acted out by animals.
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. The passage with the crucifix was enough to guarantee a place on this list, but again the atmosphere makes it disturbing.
  • Psycho by Robert Bloch. Today I would probably find it quite tame, but I was 12 when I read it and was afraid to sleep with the light off for weeks afterwards, out of a fear I would have a nightmare (I associated nightmares with darkness).

Furthermore, I suspect that if I were to read the Lord of the Flies I would probably add it to the list, at least if it is anything like as disturbing as the movie.


George said…
I read Eye of the Beholder by Marc Behm decades ago, but I'm still disturbed when I think about it. I have the movie version, but I'm hesitant to watch it. If it's anything like the book, I'll go sleepless for weeks!
Bibliophile said…
George, thanks for mentioning this book - I googled it and it sounds interesting. I'm putting it on the list for my next library trip.
George said…
If you lose some sleep, don't blame me! EYE OF THE BEHOLDER has a storyline that will stay with you. I'm looking forward to your review.

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