Something a little different in this post: Today there is one week to go until Halloween – so that leaves plenty of time to read a spooky story to get yourself in the mood! So I’ve chosen three of my favourite tales to share with you-oooooo (pretend that last bit was in a ghostly type wail!)
Best ghost story: THE SMALL HAND, Susan Hill
“Spine-tingling unease…I actually got goosebumps”
Late one summer evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn. He stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house, and compelled by curiosity, approaches the door. Standing before the entrance, he feels the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, 'as if a child had taken hold of it'.
At first he is merely puzzled by the odd incident but then begins to suffer attacks of fear and panic, and is visited by nightmares. He is determined to learn more about the house and its once-magnificent, now overgrown garden but when he does so, he receives further, increasingly sinister, visits from the small hand.
If ghost stories are your thing then you will love this novella by Susan Hill, best known as the author of The Woman In Black. So often, modern authors fall into the trap of trying to write a film rather than a book when creating paranormal stories. Hill though doesn’t rely on visual descriptions of horror, or clichés designed to make you jump if only they were on the silver screen. Instead she builds spine-tingling unease, an atmosphere of tension, and the constant feel that perhaps you need to check over your shoulder before continuing to read. I actually got goosebumps at times when reading this, despite little happening that is truly sinister – instead everything is suggested, allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps, cleverly allowing the reader to create their own fear. This little book is elegantly written and subtly-told – a proper, old-fashioned ghost tale that is perfect for this time of year.
Best gothic horror: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, John Ajvide Lindqvist
“Gripping, original, disturbing… You will never have read anything like it”
Oskar and Eli. In very different ways, they were both victims. Which is why, against the odds, they became friends. And how they came to depend on one another, for life itself.
Oskar is a 12-year-old boy living with his mother on a dreary housing estate at the city's edge. He dreams about his absentee father, gets bullied at school, and wets himself when he's frightened.
Eli is the young girl who moves in next door. She doesn't go to school and never leaves the flat by day. She is a 200-year-old vampire, forever frozen in childhood, and condemned to live on a diet of fresh blood.
John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel is a unique and brilliant fusion of social novel and vampire legend, a deeply moving fable about rejection, friendship and loyalty.
Somehow Lindqvist achieves the almost impossible. He captures the subtle, complex emotions of youngsters on the verge of puberty, the loneliness and impotent anger of a bullied child, the awkward moment where you realise you like someone and want to be their friend but don’t know if they like you.
Then he throws in adults who have lost their way through drink, loss, or just life in general. Their helplessness realising life is slipping away from them and they have wasted the time they have had on this earth so far.
Finally, into this emotional maelstrom, he throws in some grotesque horror.
It shouldn’t work. It should be an over the top mess. But somehow he pulls it off. The result is gripping, original, disturbing… You will never have read anything like it.
Best spellbinder: THE NIGHT CIRCUS, Erin Morgenstern
“Lose yourself in the dazzling prose…allow yourself to be enchanted”
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
For those of you who don’t want your reading to result in sleepless nights, I’ve included this magical tale which is set in the late 1800s.
Lose yourself in the dazzling prose, as Morgenstern breathes life into Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams), which appears suddenly, opens only at night, then disappears just as rapidly. From the colourful descriptions of the various tents, the amazing wonders, and even the incredible smells and tastes, the dream-like words create their own spell.
At the heart of this is an unusual love story, which builds subtly between two magicians hiding their skills in plain sight; two people who were bound from childhood before they even knew each other. Critics may say the ending is disappointing, and I’d agree that if put under a microscope it could be better - but frankly the writing transports and transforms to such a degree that it is worth any plots holes just to have sat back and enjoyed the journey.
The Night Circus is one of my all-time favourite books. Go on, allow yourself to be enchanted by it this Halloween.