Haunting Books for Halloween: Marianne Holmes

There are only two weeks left until Halloween, which means it’s time to get serious about setting your spooky mood. To help, we’ve asked our authors to share some of their favourite haunting reads. This week’s recommendations are from Marianne Holmes, author of A Little Bird Told Me.

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

In 1937, Jack and four others embark on an Arctic expedition. One by one, Jack’s companions have to drop out and Jack is left alone in an uninhabited bay in the bitter cold and dark of an Arctic winter.

‘At the western end, shining pavements of pewter rock sloped down to the sea, and a stream glinted, and a tiny, ruined hut huddled among boulders. The charcoal beach was littered with silver driftwood and the giant ribs of whales.’

Michelle Paver’s writing is beautiful and atmospheric and I could almost feel the snow and hear the ice floes creaking in the sea as the tension gently increases.

‘Moonlight turned the mountains to pewter. In the bay, icebergs glowed. At the water’s edge, little black waves rimmed with grey foam lapped the shore.’

As Jack’s own sense of unease grows, he understands that he’s not really alone. Something walks in the dark. I don’t recommend reading this late at night in an empty house but, if you have to, don’t look out the windows!

Human Acts by Han Kang

Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters set between 1980 and 2013, the victims and the bereaved tell their own stories and express the echoing agony of the original trauma.

This is not a ghost story in the traditional sense, although one of the narrators is the spirit of a dead boy, but it is an unnerving and haunting read.

‘Should I have gone there, right then? If I had, would I have been able to find you, Dong-ho, to ease the terror you must have felt at having just been knocked from your body? With that thick, heavy blood still creeping from my shadow-eyes, amid the dawn light being calved from the night slow as an iceberg, I found it impossible to move.’

The writing is both harrowing and poetic and brims with details of the ongoing aftershocks of the uprising and the human capacity for horror and suffering.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery is a short story first published in 1948. It’s set on the day a small American town prepares for ‘the lottery’, an annual tradition practised to ensure a good harvest. Shirley Jackson describes the small everyday actions of the locals in their preparations and it is that focus on the mundane detail that builds a sense of menace and foreboding.

‘The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions: most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around.’

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which paper combusts, is set in a bleak, dystopian future where books are illegal. Just imagine for a minute that you can’t read a book ever again. Terrifying!

Come back next Wednesday for more haunting Halloween reads, and don’t forget to share your personal favourites with us on Twitter @AgoraBooksLDN!