Halloween reads

M.R. James once said that the aim of the good story is to make the blood freeze, pleasurably, and he, if anyone, ought to know. As frequent readers of my blogs will know, I am a massive fans of most things scary, from the downright gory to the ever sophisticated tingle. Having said that, there is something to be said for the good old-fashioned English ghost story. You know, the kind you read in one sitting while comfortably sprawled out in your favourite armchair, glass of wine or cup of tea in reaching distance. It will send delicious chills down your spine, it may even cause a nightmare or two but the fundamental air of cosiness never quite lets go of you, even when your blood reaches below freezing. If you ask me, ghost stories can - and should! - be read at any given time: on the beach (I find there is something wonderfully cooling in reading scary books in scorching heat, myself), on the bus, in the garden on a lovely spring day, coming home from a ski trip on one of those borderline cartoonish glittering winter days...

However, there is undoubtedly something deeply satisfying and appropriate in indulging in a good old-fashioned ghost story on a dark autumnal night, rain soaking what is left of the leaves while the wind sends chills down your spine as you turn the pages and find comfort in sitting inside, snug and warm, happily ensconced in your scary story of choice. After all, deep down you know that you only have to close the book to get away from whatever ghastly things that currently haunt you... and you are always safe in that armchair of yours.

Or are you...?

Read on for tips on books that will make your blood freeze, ever so pleasurably! Some are downright ghost stories, others more Gothic, some just might urge you to send me your therapy bills (apart from Casper, there is no such thing as a friendly ghost) but I can almost guarantee that you’ll have a lovely time.

 Dark Matter by Michelle Paver   Dark Matter by Michelle Paver   Dark Matter by Michelle Paver   The White Devil by Justin Evans

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

 This ghost story set in the Arctic in the 1930’s bears strong echoes of M.R. James while managing to hold its own. Lovely, lovely stuff!

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

A ghost story doesn’t get better - or scarier - than this, really. Read it before you catch the film starring Daniel Radcliffe. A friendly bit of advice, though: the ending nearly killed me!

Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Any ghost stories of his, really, but I’ve always found “Oh whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad” particularly chilling. James’ ghost stories are wonderfully British and atmospheric, as cosy as they are menacing.

The White Devil by Justin Evans, which I’ve reviewed here: bookshop.se/content/white-devil-justin-evans

 Dark Matter by Michelle Paver    The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters    Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Arguably King’s finest moment on this side of the 21st century, this is a positively terrifying ghost story as well as a poignant tale of love and loss. And it resonates with one of my all time faves, Daphne du Mauriers Rebecca (more about that one in a minute!). 

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Gloriously well-portrayed and equally gloriously Gothic, Waters’ latest (please, Sarah, write a new one soon!) novel is an effective ghost story as well as a wistful tale of class, social outcasts and the end of an era for Britain. It is a slow burning sort of read that requires a patient reader and I’m still not 100% sure about the ending, but I loved it for the most part.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

D’you reckon the titles I’ve mentioned so far are a bit too dusty and Old Britannia for your liking? Well, how about a ghost on eBay, with a large helping of rock’n’roll, two AC/DC dubbed dogs, kickass humour and a genuinely spooky story? With this novel, Hill, the eldest son of a certain Stephen Edwin King, proves himself a majorly talented writer in his own right.

Dark Matter by Peter Straub    The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

Dark Matter by Peter Straub

 If you ask me, Straub is right up there with his good pal Stephen King when it comes to writing multiple-layered, immensely readable and scary novels. He is, perhaps, not as prolific but there is a literary feel to his nuanced scary tales that I adore. Outrageously underrated, in my humble opinion. Ghost Story still scares the bejesus out of me every time I think about it. I was so pleased to hear about his latest novel, Dark Matter, winning this year’s Bram Stoker Award for best novel. Must. Read. Soon!

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

 Mosse’s latest effort is a brief yet atmospheric and cosy read, ideal for a cold November night. It might seem a bit too tame for hardcore horror fans... or then again, it might serve as a nice break from more gruesome pursuits.

Finally: essential Halloween reading for wimps, or chills (almost) without ghosts!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

The latest tome from the prolific and always brilliant Morton features a dusty old castle, elderly twin sisters and deep, dark secrets. It is the ideal Gothic read for Anglophiles.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again...” From the first evocative lines of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic romance to the very last pages, the reader - any reader, I suppose, but ideally a reader in love with all things atmospheric and Gothic and lovely - is spellbound by this 1930’s page turner. One of my favourite novels of all time (and I’ve read a few).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontê

I have always loved Jane Eyre, but in recent years, I have come to appreciate the Gothic, slightly menacing undertones of Thornfield Hall and its troubled inhabitants. Do take the chance to re-read it - and if it is your first time, congratulations, you have a wonderful experience ahead of you!

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton   Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier   Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontê

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