Halloween is on the horizon, so if you want to scare yourself with a good book, put these on your reading list
Looking for a spooky book to cosy up with this October? Well, here’s five to choose from! They’re all united by a common thread: female protagonists who aren’t afraid to get a bit messy. You might love them, you’ll likely hate a few of them, but you certainly won’t forget them.
Fair warning—murder, violence and manipulation are recurring (and often graphic) themes, so if you are sensitive to these topics, you may be better off avoiding these titles. Otherwise, enjoy!
Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
No one will blame you if your primary motivation for reading this book is the cover—it’s pretty stunning. Ainslie Hogarth’s Motherthing is marketed as a domestic horror: Abby Lamb lives with her husband Ralph, and the two are reeling from the death of Ralph’s mother. In fact, they’re seemingly being haunted by her ghost. Alongside dealing with this haunting, Abby must face the potential loss of her favourite resident, Mrs Bondy, at the nursing home in which she works. Abby grows desperate to cling on to the vision of a perfect family that she has created, taking increasingly drastic and shocking measures.
"Hogarth injects a surreal sense of humour into a book packed with dark themes that are definitely not for those of faint heart or weak stomach"
Motherthing a complex and often disturbing exploration of motherhood in many forms; mother-shaped holes, the search for mother figures, the ambition of being a perfect mother (which can perhaps never be realised). Hogarth injects a surreal sense of humour into a book packed with dark themes that are definitely not for those of faint heart or weak stomach—every trigger warning you can imagine pretty much applies.
Rouge by Mona Awad
Another book that tackles difficult mother-daughter relationships, Mona Awad’s Rouge follows Belle as she returns to California to put her recently deceased mother’s affairs in order. Things take a mysterious turn when a woman appears at her mother’s funeral and invites her to a lavish spa that her mother had attended prior to her death (the circumstances of which become more and more suspect).
Rouge reads like a fairy tale, tackling ambitious themes such as mother-daughter tension, a societal obsession with disguising any remote hint of ageing by slathering on endless beauty products and undergoing increasingly invasive procedures, and the pressures of living up to Western beauty standards, particularly when you aren’t white (like Awad herself, Belle has a Canadian mother and an Egyptian father). What results is a fever dream of a book that might have you rethinking your skincare routine.
Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Eliza Clark has created the ultimate unhinged woman in Boy Parts—one Goodreads review describes the book as “American Psycho for hot girls”. Irina is placed on sabbatical from her bar job after being hit by an angry customer (decide for yourself if it was deserved) and takes the opportunity to work on her photography. Her niche is graphic images of men she finds on the streets of Newcastle. Thus ensues a downward spiral of drugs, sex and violence from which you can’t look away.
"One Goodreads review describes the book as 'American Psycho for hot girls'"
There’s something satisfying in reading about a female character so unapologetically unlikeable. Irina manipulates just about everyone she comes across, she is cruel, she is violent. You are never in any danger of starting to like Irina—she’s pretty awful—but thanks to Clark’s engaging and dynamic writing style you’ll enjoy reading her perspective nonetheless.
Although Clark makes no excuses for Irina’s behaviour, she does raise some interesting questions about how far one’s own trauma can push them to act out against others, the extent to which women wield power in a patriarchal world and when exactly you cross the line between victim and victimiser.
The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce
Inspired by Norwegian folklore, Camilla Bruce’s The Witch in the Well is an atmospheric story of obsession, female competition and revenge. Ilsbeth Clark was accused of witchcraft a hundred years ago and drowned in a well. A century later, childhood friends Elena and Cathy both find themselves inspired to write her story. As they compete to tell it, they seem to awaken something sinister in the well where Ilsbeth was drowned…
Told through journal entries, blog posts and newspaper clippings, Bruce conjures up a suspenseful narrative that leaves you unsure who to trust or what to believe. The old manor house setting and Norwegian forest backdrop create a haunting atmosphere, perfect for a rainy autumn day.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Queen of the unreliable narrators, Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is a dark and twisty thriller. When Libby Day was seven years old, her family was violently murdered in their farmhouse in Kansas, and she testified that her older brother Ben was the killer. Twenty-five years later, she is contacted by the Kill Club, a sort of community group for true crime fanatics who gather for conventions, discuss various horrific violent crimes and dress up as murderers (weird but not at all unrealistic given the popularity of the true crime genre). Some of the Kill Club are convinced that Ben is innocent, and they hire Libby to help them find proof.
"Queen of the unreliable narrators, Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is a dark and twisty thriller"
Libby must revisit murky, not to mention painful, childhood memories and track down figures from her past, all the while grappling with her own convictions about the case. Flynn is an expert at crafting complex female characters (hello Amy Dunne), and Dark Places is an unpredictable ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat and spook you out just in time for Halloween.
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