Since Halloween is coming so so soon, this Writing Wednesday is all about my favorite spine-tingling reads. These books range from the fun to the whatthef%#*wasthatnoisedidyouhearthatyouheardthatrightholycrapwe’reallgonnadie.
I’ll start you off in low gear.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.
Conor’s mother is dying of cancer. He has nightmares about a monster every night until he finally meets one, but not the monster from his dreams. This monster comes to him on a mission: to hear Conor’s truth. And he won’t leave until Conor admits it — to the monster and to himself.
This story is more sad than it is scary. It’s established early on that the monster isn’t a threat to Conor or in any way frightening to him; it’s Conor’s daily life that fills him with anxiety. The monster tells Conor stories with valuable lessons (like the one above), though he claims he isn’t there to teach Conor anything. The monster is there to help Conor confront his feelings about his mother’s impending death. Like I said, more sad than scary. But the illustrations (done by the oh-so-talented Jim Kay) might give you a daymare or two.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
“But if I memorize everything in these books, he’ll let me out, right?”
“I don’t think that’ll happen.”
“But then what will become of me?”
The sheep man cocked his head to one side. “Man, that’s a tough one.”
“Please, tell me. My mother is waiting for me back home.”
“Okay, kid. Then I’ll give it to you straight. The top of your head’ll be sawed off and all your brains’ll get slurped right up.”
I was too shocked for words.
“You mean,” I said, when I had recovered, “you mean that old man’s going to eat my brains?”
“Yep, I’m really sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.”
The Strange Library is about…a strange library. The narrator, a young boy, gets trapped by an elderly librarian who locks him in a cell and forces him to read in order to prepare his brain to be eaten. As you can imagine, it’s fairly bleak. Interestingly, the entire story is told in such a straight-forward way that it’s almost funny (despite how terrible everything that’s happening is), which I think has something to do with the fact that the story’s been translated from Japanese into English. And though the narrator eventually escapes, the story does not end happily.
I lay injured, a bullet in my side, a sword wound in my shoulder, watching night creep through the trees. Maybe I should have gone with Death when he offered me his bony finger.
The year is 1642. Otto Hundebiss is a soldier of the Imperial Army who narrowly escapes Death. During the journey to rebuild his life, he meets a beast man who seems to know everything about him and gives him magic dice which will always tell him in which direction he should travel. Otto encounters Safire, the love of his life, Mistress Jabber, an evil sorceress with one very long fingernail, a trio of werewolves, and a magic tinder box. In the end, you are left to wonder if any of the strangeness, violence, and terror was even real.
The whole book is illustrated by David Roberts in black, white, and splashes of red that more often than not color blood. The creepy style of the drawings fits perfectly with the story, which keeps you, uneasy, on your toes.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
I think the quote in the picture says it all.
Through the Woods contains five stories, all written and illustrated by Emily Carroll. As if the stories on their own (which are pretty damn creepy) aren’t enough to make you look over your shoulder, you get page after page of nightmarish images to go along with them. Lucky you!
What’s funny is each story in this book reminds me of some other horror story I’ve read. “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” puts me in mind of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. “His Face All Red” made me think of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Every one of Carroll’s stories is original, but each have the feel of a classic horror tale. There’s possession, murder, mystery, and fear. So much fear.
Read it with the light on.
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
As we were leaving my apartment, Jun found something stuck to the outside of my door and said: “What’s this?” It was a small, dark thing, about half the size of a postage stamp, like a torn scrap of paper. My first thought was that it was a piece of human skin.
Most people are familiar with the Murakami who wrote The Strange Library; not as many are familiar with this one. But he, Ryu, is my favorite of the two, and this book is one of my favorite books.
Kenji is a Japanese guide who specializes in after-hours sex tours in Tokyo. His usual customers are foreign businessmen; more often than not, Americans. After hearing about the brutal murder and dismemberment of a local school girl, Kenji meets Frank, an American who claims to be in Tokyo on business. But something about Frank isn’t right. Though he asks to go to the best sex clubs in the city, nothing seems to excite him. Eventually, Kenji finds out first hand what Frank is really all about.
This is the book that changed the way I look at horror. Sure, Frank is terrifying (if you read the book, you’ll see why) but what’s more terrifying than him is the realization Kenji comes to in the end: that maybe he and Frank aren’t so different after all. Ryu Murakami specializes in dark, violent fiction and this, in my opinion, is his best. It’s my favorite anyway. The first time I read it, I stayed up all night afterwards. I wouldn’t turn the lights off. I just kept thinking about it, for hours. You may not react the same way — it all comes down to who you are — but this story stayed with me.
What are your favorite creepy reads?