Spooky reads

Ellen Birch 6 November 2017

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and Halloween is upon us… The perfect time to settle down and give yourself a fright with an eerie book. Whether a ghostly tale, a spooky plot or a gothic atmosphere, here are five of my favourite reads for this time of year.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

One of my favourite books of all time, du Maurier’s Rebecca contains a young heroine, a mysterious and handsome man and a forbidding housekeeper, set against the gothic backdrop of Manderley, the Cornwall estate. Our unnamed narrator falls for the older Max de Winter whose wife, Rebecca, has recently died. A society couple, Rebecca was beautiful, popular and loved by all, and by no one more than the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers who instigates a psychological undermining of the narrator, her insidious presence creating an uneasy atmosphere. Feelings of inadequacy and fierce jealousy continue to mount until the novel’s chilling climax – it’s worth the wait.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brönte

Set on the wild and stormy Yorkshire Moors, the novel opens with a man called Lockwood who is in search of somewhere to spend a snowy night on the moors. He stumbles across Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights who begrudgingly shows him to a room, yet in the middle of the night he is terrified by the ghost of Wuthering Heights’ former inhabitant, Catherine, trying to enter at his window. Heathcliff does not seem surprised by this, and so the next day Lockwood asks the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange to recount the history of the farmhouse’s inhabitants. And so begins a tale of two generations who resided at the formidable abode. It is a tale of the extremes of love and passion which also raises questions regarding religion and Victorian values. The image of Catherine’s ghost at the window is one which recurs in a series of horrific forms, and this, coupled with the desolate, windy backdrop of the moors, makes it a truly chilling read.

Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Every Christmas, the Provost of King’s College invites students to his lodge to listen to readings of these ghost stories, written by M.R. James, a former Provost of King’s College from 1905-1918. The fire is lit, mulled wine flows, the lights dimmed and the ‘skeleton’ of M.R. James himself sits among the students as the tales are read. The stories are not overtly supernatural, but eerie in a subtle way, often involving the protagonist discovering an object such as a book or a key which leads to creepy occurrences. The reader is left to fill in the blanks, inferring through suggestions and implications, something which adds to the spreading sense of fear. The tales were originally written as Christmas Eve entertainment and M.R. James would read them to his friends, and lend themselves well to this tradition, continued to this day at King’s.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

It’s a Christie classic, and worth a re-read before this month’s Hollywood remake. Hercule Poirot boards the Orient Express in Istanbul to travel back to London, yet when the train is caught in a snowstorm and forced to stop for the night, Mr Rachett, an elderly American passenger, is found dead. Christie’s famous plot device of an enclosed space with a murderer in its midst is at its best here, and Poirot must work out who of the 13 passengers is the killer before they strike again. Although part of the cosy crime genre, rather than Miss Marple’s village green, we have a snowy Siberian landscape, full of glitz, glamour and murder. It was only the eighth crime novel Christie published and is a classic with an original twist.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The most obvious contender on any list of spooky reads, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born out of a competition involving herself, Percy Shelly, Lord Byron and John Polidori as to who could write the best horror story. Shelley came up with the idea of a scientist who creates a monster and is then horrified by what he has made, and the novel she subsequently wrote became one of the first science fiction stories of all time. Yet despite the gore and tangible horror of the creation of the monster, it is also a story of humanity and compassion, Shelley’s tale showing her reader the inner psychology of a man who is deemed by the world to be a monster, yet wants to be loved like everybody else.