10 Halloween Books to Read ~ #halloween2020
Updated: Oct 31
With both trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples not ticking the boxes as covid-friendly activities, how can we safely enjoy Halloween? I, like many of you, plan to find terror in a good (or should I say ghastly!) book.
While we Brits take a more sedate approach to Halloween than our American cousins across the pond, we also enjoy a spot of fancy dress, a good pumpkin carving session (made even better if the lantern's innards produce a soup) and a trip around the block giddily calling "trick or treat".
While coronavirus rules prevents parties, and ringing the bell of a vulnerable old lady asking for sweets seems like taking our love of all things spooky a giant leap too far this year, perhaps consolation can be found through seasonal movies and books. But what should we read? If pressed to think of a novel that is all things Halloween, I imagine Dracula comes to mind for many of us. But with more than 200 films made featuring Bram Stoker's classic character, perhaps the big screen can suffice for this text.
In search of some inspiring Halloween reads I've been searching through my book shelves and embracing all things gothic.
I'm sure you can find something to float your bobbin' apple below:
If you have sugar hyped kids to wrestle into bed, a short story might be more your thing this Halloween. I have three firm favourites:
1. For a classic read - The Red Room by H. G. Wells. Candle light and a duvet are recommended for this ghost story. Wells builds up tension within this short story masterfully. Seeds of unease are sewn from the start as a young man decides to spend the night in the haunted red room. By the time you reach the crescendo, and you realise the power the imagination has over an individual, you are a gibbering wreck.
2. For a contemporary read- Farthing House by Susan Hill. I'm sure you've heard about The Woman in Black, but there's a chance this short story might have passed you by. Hill takes the classic gothic conventions of a large stately home and a dark lonely night and gives them a modern shape in this ghost story. The tension within this story is a slower build than The Red Room, with peaks and troughs to keep you on the edge of your seat, but the tale is just as unnerving as Wells' story on a spooky autumnal night.
3. For a read with a twist - Miss Froom, Vampire by John Connolly. Connolly was nominated for a Short Story Dagger Award for this short story in 2005, and after reading it you'll see why. Connolly takes everything we think we (and the main character) know about vampires and subverts it. The result is a charming tale of wit and expectation. A very different Halloween read.
Fancy something you haven't read before? Why not experience the birth of the gothic genre this year?
4. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. This novel was first published in 1764 and is largely regarded as the original gothic story. All the tropes are here: lascivious, lustful aristocracy, innocent, virginal victim, twisting maze of a castle - and, of course, the uncanny supernatural elements. If you fancy some medievalism terror then this enduring story is for you.
5. The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. This novel was published in 1796 and, like all good gothic stories, sex underscores the gothic nature of the story. A best seller in its day, this influential novel helped establish the gothic tropes we have come to expect: a lustful man in a position of power, virginal innocence and complete depravity.
Want something iconic or a little more contemporary to get your, er, teeth into? Then below are some tried and tested Halloween reads:
6. The Shining by Stephen King. This is a book so iconic that Joey in Friends often has to put in the freezer. King's novel is definitely more psychological horror than true gothic terror, but with supernatural shivers in spades, this definitely fits the bill for an October read.
7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is a top pick for me this year for a few reasons. With the plot of this story so well known, there's no need for me to go into it here, but created by a woman who lost her virginity upon her mother's gravestone, and written in a summer of darkness thanks to the super eruption of an Indonesian volcano, I think this novel has the apocalyptic mix of gothic and Sci-Fi many readers might be seeking in 2020.
8. The Complete Short Story Collection by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is regarded as a master of the macabre, so much so that even The Simpsons have dedicated numerous episodes in his honour. This collection of short stories includes one of mu favourites, The Tell Tale Heart. This story of suspense and murder, guilt and insanity, is a Halloween MUST!
9. The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This play is chilling in both its content and its socio-political message. An uneasy read made all the more disturbing because the play is a partially fictionalized version of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692–93. Beneath the surface, this play is an allegory for McCarthyism, and the persecution of Americans by the United States government. As America is again experiencing a time of division, it might strike a chord...?
10. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Published in 1886, this story is gothic writing at its best. Containing Victorian angst about morality and science, this novella is about a respectable London doctor and his depraved alter-ego, Edward Hyde. In my opinion, this is one of the best gothic texts ever written.
If you'd like some more recommendations (including some more contemporary or off beat reads) click here.
And now, with Halloween taken care of we Brits can look forward to Bonfire Night on November 5th! Oh no, wait... gatherings are banned and fires exacerbate asthma and other lung conditions. Having a 'bommie' in the garden is definitely not good covid etiquette.
I wonder what books would do...?
To find out about The Guardians’ Trust series click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first three books.