I’ve learnt to like (aka ‘put up with’) Halloween for the sake of my children, who enjoy it far more than almost any other seasonal event. Funnily enough, they are the ones who don’t want to watch scary films with me! But I like Gothic books even more than scary films, although I haven’t read that many of them lately. Maybe it is a teenage thing, when your nerves are more rested, younger and bouncier.
- Which classic book has scared you the most? It’s a tie between The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both by Shirley Jackson. She is such a master at the slow build of something strange and ‘off’. Plus, I find mental health issues are far scarier (because I’m more likely to encounter or experience them) than ghosts and the like.
- Scariest moment in a book? Both in the book and in the film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story Don’t Look Now, that moment when the little girl in the red coat turns around as John follows her through the canals and cobbled streets of Venice. It still gives me goosebumps merely trying to describe it and it has only got worse since having children myself and trying to imagine what it might be like to lose them.
- Classic villain that you love to hate? Count Fosco in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. He’s just so unexpected, larger than life and completely sinister. Unforgettable.
- Creepiest setting in a book? I’d never been to the Yorkshire moors when I read Wuthering Heights, but I imagined it as the most bleak, desolate, creepy landscape with the wind howling all around and thunderstorms raging. Have I mentioned that I used to be deeply disturbed by thunderstorms as a child? I had to dive down under the covers until they were over
Best scary cover ever? Not sure if it’s scary or disgusting, but it certainly makes me squirm, the cover of Kiss Kiss collection of Roald Dahl’s short stories (most certainly NOT for children).
Book you’re too scared to read? Jim Thompson’s unflinching exploration into the gut-churning crevices of Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford’s utterly remorseless head in The Killer Inside Me. Generally, I don’t like spending any time in the heads of serial killers.
Spookiest creature in a book? Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Slimy, unpleasant and yet pitiful.
Classic book that haunts you to this day? Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The author’s verbose and indecisive style is pared down to what is, for him, the minimum, and it fits in well with this ultimate unreliable narrator and the journey we take into her troubled mind. He manipulates our emotions and makes us question our own attitudes towards class and gender, in a way which makes me uncomfortable to this day. For reading it with an insufficiently critical mind the first time round.
Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist? I don’t know if it’s entirely unexpected, since we are dealing with the shock horror world of Murakami Ryuu, but his Coin Locker Babies and In the Miso Soup both fit the bill.
Classic book you really, really disliked? Not sure if it can be considered a classic already, but I really did not take to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, although I normally like campus and friendship novels.
Character death that disturbed/upset you the most? Without question, Simon being set upon and killed by the other boys in The Lord of the Flies. His gentle, dreamy, poetic personality made him my favourite character anyway. He has none of the self-righteousness of Piggy or Ralph – and certainly none of the dictatorship instincts of Jack.
List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads. As I said, I find the human mind and especially herd instinct to be the scariest things in the universe. So my Top 5 Scary Reads are almost like studies in psychology and sociology:
- Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
- George Orwell: 1984
- Eugene Ionesco: Rhinoceros
- Todd Strasser: The Wave
- RL Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.
Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,Robert Browning: My Last Duchess
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then.
The best frisson comes when the writer leaves so much unsaid that you have to make up the connections in your own head.