The best books that make you the inmate of a sinister institution

Who am I?

A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths. I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary every day rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of books celebrates that. I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have.


I wrote...

Greyfriars Reformatory

By Frazer Lee,

Book cover of Greyfriars Reformatory

What is my book about?

Nineteen-year-old Emily's acute dissociative disorder causes her to be institutionalised—again—at Greyfriars Reformatory For Girls. Caught in the crossfire between brutal Principal Quick and cruel bully Saffron Chassay, Emily befriends fellow outcast Victoria. When the terrifying apparition of the mysterious ‘Grey Girl' begins scaring the inmates to death, Emily’s disorder may be the one thing that can save her.

The books I picked & why

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The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

By Barbara Taylor,

Book cover of The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

Why this book?

I once worked on a film shoot at the infamous Friern Barnet Asylum in London, an imposing building that boasts the longest corridor in Europe at over a third of a mile long. It was my job to lock up after filming was over each night, and to do so, I had to walk the long corridor with just a flashlight for company… and the ghosts rumoured to haunt the building! I have never forgotten the feeling of dread and despair in that place, and my heart went out to the patients who were isolated in the creepy basement wards. Barbara Taylor gives an inside perspective on this fearsome institution in her book, which is both an achingly honest account of mental illness and addiction, and a critique of community care.

The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

By Barbara Taylor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Last Asylum is Barbara Taylor's haunting memoir of her journey through the UK mental health system.

A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

SHORTLISTED FOR THE RBC TAYLOR PRIZE

In July 1988, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, was admitted to what had once been England's largest psychiatric institution: Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, later known as Friern Hospital.

This searingly honest, thought-provoking and beautifully written memoir is the story of the author's madness years, set inside the wider story of the death of the asylum system in the twentieth century. It is a meditation on her own experience…


The Chocolate War

By Robert Cormier,

Book cover of The Chocolate War

Why this book?

I read this book during my school days, which we are often told are the best of our lives. I enjoyed school, overall, but did encounter more than my fair share of bullies and vindictive teachers. Reading in the school library became my favourite escape, and I devoured this book in one lengthy sitting. I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure by secret society The Vandals, who made the kids at my school look like rank amateurs! After reading this book, the reader is left shell-shocked and wondering if it’s better to comply or to ‘disturb the universe’ as Cormier provocatively puts it.

The Chocolate War

By Robert Cormier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The bestselling controversial novel about corruption and misuse of power in an American boys' school.
The headmaster of Trinity College asks Archie Costello, the leader of the Vigils, a secret society that rules the school, to help with the selling of 20,000 boxes of chocolates in the annual fund-raising effort. Archie sees the chance of adding to his power - he is the Assigner, handing out to the boys tasks to be performed if they are to survive in the school. Freshman, Jerry Renault, a newcomer to the corrupt regime, refuses to sell chocolates. Enormous mental and physical pressure is…


Asylum

By Patrick McGrath,

Book cover of Asylum

Why this book?

This book stayed with me long after I made it my Summer read that year during a blisteringly hot July. It details a darkly destructive love affair between Stella, the wife of a man running an asylum, and Edgar, a murderer who is incarcerated there. McGrath’s vivid descriptions of the asylum and its grounds reframe the gothic tradition through an unflinching, contemporary lens. The doomed obsession of the novel’s star cross’d lovers reminds us that our own hearts can become institutionalised if we do not balance passion with compromise.

Asylum

By Patrick McGrath,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A story of self-obsession narrated by the point of view of a psychiatrist, published as a Penguin Essential for the first time.

As a psychiatrist in a top-security mental hospital in the 1950s, Peter Cleave has made a study of what he calls 'the catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession.' His experience is extensive, and he is never surprised. Until, that is, he comes reluctantly to accept that the wife of one of his colleagues has embarked on such an affair...


The Devil in Silver

By Victor LaValle,

Book cover of The Devil in Silver

Why this book?

I believe there are two types of horror stories, one in which a character enters the world of the horror, and the other where the horror comes to visit. LaValle’s book is definitely an example of the former, with the title having great importance in the emerging theme of the story. Just like his excellent novella The Ballad of Black Tom, this book showcases LaValle’s mastery of authenticity and believability in characterization. I love the way LaValle mixes social commentary (the truth about poverty and institutionalization) and monster movie tropes to conjure up something surprising.

The Devil in Silver

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Publishers Weekly

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.
 
Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first…


The Hospital

By Ahmed Bouanani, Lara Vergnaud (translator),

Book cover of The Hospital

Why this book?

A deeply unsettling book, The Hospital occupies those liminal spaces that lie somewhere between illness and health, memory and madness. The narrator is admitted to the hospital to receive treatment for an unspecified disease and finds that the labyrinthine corridors and wards match those of his mind. Casablanca-born author Ahmed Bouanani was confined to a hospital bed for six months after contracting tuberculosis. Part hallucinatory fever dream and part half-remembered memoir, the book is a unique blend of Moroccan history and surrealist horror.

The Hospital

By Ahmed Bouanani, Lara Vergnaud (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive..." So begins Ahmed Bouanani's arresting, hallucinatory 1989 novel The Hospital, appearing for the first time in English translation. Based on Bouanani's own experiences as a tuberculosis patient, the hospital begins to feel increasingly like a prison or a strange nightmare: the living resemble the dead; bureaucratic angels of death descend to direct traffic, claiming the lives of a motley cast of inmates one by one; childhood memories and fantasies of resurrection flash in and out of the narrator's consciousness as the hospital transforms…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mental disorders, psychiatric hospitals, and Morocco?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mental disorders, psychiatric hospitals, and Morocco.

Mental Disorders Explore 120 books about mental disorders
Psychiatric Hospitals Explore 30 books about psychiatric hospitals
Morocco Explore 28 books about Morocco

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Madhouse, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Gentlemen and Players if you like this list.