Every October I get a little sad. Because what I really want to do is snuggle up with a massive number of Shirley Jackson novels and get creeped out. But there are only a small number of Shirley Jackson novels and I’ve used them all up and sometimes it feels like there’s no other atmospheric suspense novels out there that can give you a good shiver while delivering great writing and characters. But every year I find just a few more to add to my list and this year was no exception. I’m starting off with my newest finds and then adding old favorites.
Bird Box is a title that’s been thrown around the BookRiot Staff forum for a while now and when I had some Audible credits, I decided to give it a whirl. This may be the most frightening book I have ever read. I know that last sentence probably made a bunch of you go, “Okay, then I’ll skip that one,” but it’s not a book that gives you nightmares or makes you worry about something grabbing you from under the bed. That’s the kind of horror I’ve never really gone for. This is a book that uses the unknown and the unseen to make you really, really tense. And that is a reading experience that I really savor because I can’t stop. Bird Box tells the story of Malorie through two timelines: in her present, the story of one harrowing day where she takes her two children and leaves the house they have stayed hidden in for years; in her past, the story of how society fell apart and what led her to her unusual situation.
This is a book that doesn’t want to explain things to you, which is smart since the characters in the book understand very little about what’s going on around them. You are as much in the dark as they are, and that’s an apt metaphor since whatever is the cause of all this trouble, it only has power over you if you see it. Imagine life blindfolded, where just looking outside a window risked madness and death. It’s not a perfect book but it’s disturbing, haunting, and absolutely unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I can’t stop talking about it, and neither can anyone else I know who’s read it. It makes you a little bit obsessed in the best way. If you’re up for it, I can’t recommend it enough. Kindle edition is currently $1.99!!
Another book that’s heavy on the buzz is Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. This is much more of a traditional horror novel, complete with unexplained phenomena, a scrappy band of characters who get picked off, and a big bad. It’s also, like much of our modern horror, all a bit tongue and cheek. Your first clue? It’s basically set in an Ikea. In the book it’s a big furniture chain called Orsk, but there’s not much of an effort to distinguish it from the real Ikea. There’s a single path you must follow through the store, there’s cheap furniture with Scandinavian names, there’s little rooms set up all over the place. Amy is at a low point in life and her job at Orsk is a lifesaver, but also a kind of living hell. But when strange things keep happening, she volunteers to work an overnight shift to have the store in perfect shape when the corporate bigwigs are coming the next morning. Cue the havoc and mayhem.
If the thought of being in an Ikea at night gives you the creeps, this is a good choice for you. Horror lovers have been talking up this book big time. If traditional horror is not quite your favorite, you can still get a good chuckle from it. Personally I wish Hendrix had pushed a bit harder towards funny or scary since being in the middle left me a bit unsatisfied. I can say with complete confidence that this will make an AMAZING movie and I will be shocked if no one buys the rights. And it gets bonus points for having one of my favorite covers in recent memory.
It’s somewhat unheard of for a trilogy to release all three books in a single year, but that’s what’s happening with Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I was reading the first book, Annihilation, in those pictures I took on the beach last week, and I’m currently in the midst of the second book, Authority. The final one, Acceptance, is out recently and I hope to be finished with all 3 soon. At first glance, Annihilation seemed like a throwback to a Crichton novel, similar to one of my teenage favorites, Sphere. A team of specialists is exploring Area X. Area X is surrounded by some kind of strange border that just suddenly appeared one day, and a secret government agency is trying to figure out what’s going on inside while pretending that there was some kind of environmental emergency that keeps the land uninhabitable. Totally Crichton, right? Except it’s not at all.
This is not a straightforward story, even if the narrator, the team’s Biologist, tells it mostly in order. It is often vague, leaving out details, or describing something in a way that doesn’t make much sense. Like how the team finds something some members describe as a tunnel when another insists on calling it a tower. There’s the complicating factor of hypnotism (a requirement to get them across the border that’s never quite explained) that immediately makes you wonder if what’s happening is really happening. And as you find out more truth, you get farther from feeling comfortable and in control. This book is a straight up mind game, and if you’re into that kind of thing, you should not waste much time. So far Authority is a very different novel, without the odd tonal detachment of the first narrator, it comes from the point of view of the new Director of the Southern Reach, that agency that’s in charge of Area X. You’d expect him to give us a bunch of answers, but so far each answer only leads to more questions, especially when we find out who the last Director was.
These books are about disorientation in many ways, about things that are impossible to describe, about fear and strange phenomena. The closest I can compare Annihilation to is House of Leaves, both have that scientific feel, that feeling of being somewhat off-kilter, and a sense of dread lying everywhere. These are the kind of books that shake you up and pull you thoroughly from your comfort zone.
If you’re still looking for more, you can check out 2012′s Spooky Reads list, or check some of these reviews:
The Other by Thomas Tyron
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
The Barter by Siobhan Adcock
The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Help for the Haunted by John Searles