One of the remarkable things about October is how it is, without exception, regarded as the time for all things scary. The new chill in the air, early nightfall, and the imminent year-end seems to mark a shift in our cultural landscape as well.
We have churned out horror movie after horror movie in honor of October, and Halloween celebrations are no longer just for the kids — adults have found a way to warm up to it too. Costume parties, unrestrained drinking, and horror movie marathons are the standard celebration. Steered by pop culture, October presents the perfect opportunity to consume horror en masse. Be it grisly and bloody or bizarre and fantastical, there are all kinds of horror for you to take your pick from. Thankfully these liberties have been extended to the bookshelf too — here are 6 of the wickedest books to read this spooky season!
Moom by Bani Basu (translated by Arunava Sinha)
Off to a genial start, Moom is the story of the invisible women in the Agarwal family of Calcutta. Unlike the ghosts that paralyze you with fear, the Agarwal household would virtually come to a halt without its phantom female members. Even though long dead, the spirits of the Agarwal mother and daughter-in-law comfort the men and instruct the servants on how to go about their daily chores. Moom is a telling commentary on how women merge with the shadows when their roles are restricted to domestic servitude. Coupled with narrations of gendered violence, Bani Basu reminds us that the worst kinds of horrors happen in our homes.
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (translated by Polly Barton)
Moving on to Japanese tales of the supernatural featuring ghosts and monsters, Where the Wild Ladies Are is a delightful collection of stories that merge the mortal and the ghost realms to bring us a voice that is uniquely non-conforming and shrewd. Matsuda situates ancient folklore in modern Japan and uses elements of horror, magical realism, and dark humor to pull apart the veneer of progressiveness. Just like Moom, Where the Wild Ladies Are employs horror to show the despicable status of women in modern times.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe was born a slave and has endured the unthinkable — even after her escape to Ohio she is tormented by memories of Sweet Home which despite its name holds terrible secrets. Her home has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died namelessly and is buried as “Beloved”. Sethe’s life takes a turn for the worse and threatens to disrupt the present when a mysterious teenage girl arrives and insists on being addressed as “Beloved”. Beloved is a haunting ghost story, but there’s nothing quite as daunting as the past that you are trying to escape.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
If you like a good grisly read, then this is the one for you. The Only Good Indians promises an abundance of gore, blood, death, and more. Four friends are celebrating the tenth anniversary of their elk hunt but all is not well — a vengeful spirit is out to hunt down the men and make them pay for their violence against a voiceless animal. Through the chase, Jones tackles contemporary issues that affect indigenous communities in a way that is quite remarkable for a slasher book. If you can make it past the gore and grime, you will remember The Only Good Indians as one of the most purposeful and important horror novels to have been published in recent times.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse. Though her death is ruled a suicide, the astute investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he digs deeper, McGrath confronts the legacy of Ashley’s father, a legendary cult-horror film director who hasn’t been in the public eye for more than thirty years. Though there’s much fanfare about the director’s dark and unsettling films, the man himself remains a mystery. Fuelled by vengeance and curiosity, McGrath is sucked into the Cordovas’ sinister world as he tries to uncover the mysteries behind Ashley’s death. A genre-defying book, the murder mystery employees multi-media presentation to illustrate the true extent of horrors that human beings are capable of.
Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterric (translated by Sarah Moses)
Accepting the mortality and limitations of the flesh is one of the most humbling human experiences. Bazterric takes it to an extreme in Tender Is the Flesh where in the absence of animal meat, humanity has taken to cannibalism to sate its appetite for flesh and blood. Humans are now mass-produced, slaughtered, and sold for their meat. Cannibalism isn’t entirely new to us and neither is human beings traded for their bodies — but together they give rise to ghastly possibilities. Tender Is the Flesh forces us to accept that we are beasts capable of feral acts and ever ready to revert into savageness at the slightest hint of discomfort. The horrors of the prose come through in the desperation that we are forced to undertake in order to sustain ourselves.