I like being scared. And nothing scares me more than a ghost story. A good ghost story, in my opinion, needn’t bombard you with visceral scares to make an impact. It’s the scratching in the walls, the creaking of the stairs, the tap at the window, the whistle of the wind outside, the scuttling of what could be rats across an old wooden floor, but who really knows for sure? These are the kind of tales that find you holding your breath without realising, pulling up the duvet around you tightly in a comforting, yet futile, nest of protection and recoiling in horror as the door handle of your bedroom slowly twists and then opens into darkness (and then, once you’ve recovered yourself, you realise it’s just your boyfriend coming home from the pub and has forgotten to switch on the hallway light).
These are tales that fill your heart with slow, thudding dread.
I last felt like this reading Jerusalem’s Lot, a short story in the Night Shift collection by Stephen King. His homage to H.P Lovecraft was overwhelmingly creepy and I felt very scared indeed, despite having read it several times. Jerusalem’s Lot, like the classics it commemorates, taps into that all too human fear of going mad. Is the protagonist losing his mind or is what he’s experiencing real? Who knows? The terrible ambiguity left by a good chiller makes us question our own sanity; is our mind playing tricks on us, or is there really something lurking in the shadows?
So throughout the month of October, leading up to Halloween, I’ll be going back to basics:
–Edgar Allan Poe-The Tell-Tale Heart
–MR James-(selections from) Ghost Stories of an Antiquity
–Susan Hill-The Woman in Black
–Stephen King-Jerusalem’s Lot (for old times’ sake…)
–HP Lovecraft-(selections from) Collected Stories
–Shirley Jackson-The Haunting of Hill House
Some of these titles are full-length novels, others are collections of short stories. Despite being a fast reader, I would practically have to put my life on hold to read a ton of full-length novels so I’m going for a heady mix of the best and beautiful. I know there are loads more worthy tomes out there waiting to be read voraciously but I’ll have to save them for next year…if we all survive the Mayan Apocalypse of course! There’s a comforting thought for you.
On that note, I hereby announce that December will be ‘Apocalypse’ month. I’m thinking zombies, nuclear disasters, environmental catastrophes, pandemics and the failure of society/technology. Good times!