The best literary horror novels that will get under your skin and stay there

Kirstyn McDermott Author Of Perfections
By Kirstyn McDermott

Who am I?

While I’ve been a voraciously omnivorous reader my whole life, I’ve always been drawn most to stories that take me into the darkest of dark places, and that sometimes leave me there, alone and without a light. Horror, weird fiction, and the contemporary gothic all have a permanent home in my heart, and they’re the genres in which I most like to play as a writer. Most of all, I love those dark stories that stretch boundaries and defy conventions, that wield language as the beautifully vicious weapon it can be, and challenge me to do the same.


I wrote...

Perfections

By Kirstyn McDermott,

Book cover of Perfections

What is my book about?

Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences.

Antoinette and Jacqueline have little in common beyond a mutual antipathy for their paranoid, domineering mother, a bond that has united them since childhood. In the aftermath of a savage betrayal, Antoinette lands on her sister’s doorstep bearing a suitcase and a broken heart. But Jacqueline, the ambitious would-be manager of a Melbourne gallery has her own problems – chasing down a delinquent painter in the sweltering heat of a Brisbane summer. Abandoned, armed with a bottle of vodka and her own grief-spun desires, Antoinette weaves a dark and desperate magic that can never, ever be undone. Their lives unravelling, the sisters find themselves drawn into a tangle of lies, manipulations, and the most terrible of family secrets.

The books I picked & why

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The Only Good Indians

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Book cover of The Only Good Indians

Why this book?

This novel reminded me of just how brilliant the horror genre can be, and how deeply a book can wound, no matter how much we have read or how jaded we think we have become. Jones is a master at evoking not only visceral but achingly genuine emotional reactions in his readers, and there are scenes in The Only Good Indians that I will never be able to forget. Unflinching, sharply written and laced with unexpected black humour, this is super-smart horror fiction that takes no shortcuts and resists the cheap and easy shot. There’s good reason it’s won so many awards, including the World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson, and I am absolutely on board for anything and everything that Jones writes in the future. 

The Only Good Indians

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Only Good Indians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Thrilling, literate, scary, immersive."
-Stephen King

The Stoker, Mark Twain American Voice in Literature, Bradbury, Locus and Alex Award-winning, NYT-bestselling gothic horror about cultural identity, the price of tradition and revenge for fans of Adam Nevill's The Ritual.

Ricky, Gabe, Lewis and Cassidy are men bound to their heritage, bound by society, and trapped in the endless expanses of the landscape. Now, ten years after a fateful elk hunt, which remains a closely guarded secret between them, these men - and their children - must face a ferocious spirit that is coming for them, one at a time. A spirit…


The Mere Wife

By Maria Dahvana Headley,

Book cover of The Mere Wife

Why this book?

You don’t have to know Beowulf to enjoy this modern-day re-imagining – set in a gated community at the foot of a mined-out mountain with subterranean caves and lakes a plenty – but the novel serves up delicious layers for readers familiar with the Old English epic. Headley weaves a story that is horrific and beautiful in equal measure as she explores the gulf between the experiences of two very different mothers – Dana, an ex-soldier barely surviving in the wilderness with her son Gren; and Willa Herot, suburban royalty living a luxurious if socially pressurised existence, protected her wealthy husband’s power. With writing that oscillates between lyrical poetics and prose that is sparse, blunt, and direct, The Mere Wife is a darkly fabulous novel that I look forward to reading over and over again.

The Mere Wife

By Maria Dahvana Headley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mere Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New Statesman Book of the Year

A fierce, feminist retelling of the classic tale Beowulf.

Gren and his mother, Dana, a war veteran, live on the side of a mountain, next to Herot Hall, a pristine gated community ruled over by Willa and her son, Dylan. Separated by high gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights, Dylan and Gren are unaware of the barriers erected to keep them apart. But when Gren crosses the border into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, he sets up a collision between Dana's and Willa's worlds that echoes the Beowulf story - and…


The Grief Hole

By Kaaron Warren,

Book cover of The Grief Hole

Why this book?

As an author, Warren possesses the enviable power to create complex, flawed, and often deeply unlikeable characters – at least when you first meet them on the page – who remain utterly and irresistibly engaging to the reader. Theresa, the protagonist in The Grief Hole, is no exception. Not only can she see ghosts, but she can also tell how a person is going to die, but what she does – and doesn’t do – with these abilities isn’t what you might expect. I’ve been reading Warren’s fiction for decades and this novel is among her finest and most challenging work – which is no small thing, believe me! Dark and disturbing, weird and wry, The Grief Hole is a ghost story that will haunt you for a very, very long time.

The Grief Hole

By Kaaron Warren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Grief Hole as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner, Best Horror Novel, 2016 Aurealis Awards
Winner, Best Novel, 2016 Shadow Awards
Winner, Best Novel, 2016 Ditmar Awards

There are many grief holes. There's the grief hole you fall into when a loved one dies. There's another grief hole in all of us; small or large, it determines how much we want to live. And there are the geographical grief holes, the buildings that attract sorrow and loss and are filled with ghosts. Theresa sees these ghosts better than most, but can she figure out how to close the holes?


The Red Tree

By Caitlin R. Kiernan,

Book cover of The Red Tree

Why this book?

Kiernan is, without question, one of the best practitioners of dark weird fiction working today. I’ve been reading their work almost since I started writing myself and will happily – and gratefully – admit to the early influence on my own writing. While their short stories always held a greater attraction for me personally, The Red Tree is a powerful and ambitious novel that brings together everything I love about their work. Sarah Crowe is burned-out writer fleeing from all her life contains, including herself, and the old, isolated farmhouse chosen as a refuge proves to be precisely the opposite. There are stories nested within stories, autobiography threaded through metafiction, dread mingled with wonder, and a satisfying ambiguity that resists a neat resolution. 

The Red Tree

By Caitlin R. Kiernan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Red Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta—and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship—to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant—an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.
 
Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavory history.  
 
And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health…


House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Book cover of House of Leaves

Why this book?

This is a debut novel that is ridiculously too good to be a debut novel. Due to the hype when it was first published, my deeply contrary self was initially resistant to House of Leaves until it was foisted upon me by a dear friend. I have since foisted it upon many other dear friends and now, dear reader, I humbly foist it upon you. The book is a weird, brilliant, terrifying, heartbreaking Russian doll of a narrative, a story of haunted houses and haunted humans, documented by at least three different and increasingly unhinged narrators, and typeset to manipulate the reading experience in a direct, physical way. I’ve read House of Leaves several times and each time marvel that there is something new to discover.

House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked House of Leaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A novelistic mosaic that simultaneously reads like a thriller and like a strange, dreamlike excursion into the subconscious.” —The New York Times

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations,…


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