“It was high summer and the breeze coming over the levee from the river carried a hint of cleanly rotting fish, a phantom of an oyster shell still slick with silver glue. There was another smell on the breeze, something browner, from a deeper part of the river…”
Poppy Z. Brite, ‘Missing’
If you appreciate atmospheric horror; the kind that creeps under the skin, seeming to both enchant and unsettle as it paints a picture of horror around you, then the following books are my latest recommendations. I have been meaning to share these titles for a while and now seems as good a time as any, with the evenings drawing in and Halloween upon us. They are in no particular order, being equally strange and beautiful to read. They have all influenced me in their own ways, and I hope they one day do the same to you.
Clive Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD
This collection of short stories is my current reading, by a man who needs to introductions. More visceral than my usual reading material, it is no less transfixing. The prose is lyrical and literate, conveying Barker’s love of language and imparting beauty to the horrors he writes about, which seem to sing…
Angela Carter’s THE BLOODY CHAMBER
“He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sandpaper. ‘He will lick the skin off me!’ And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.”
Angela Carter, ‘The Tiger’s Bride’
Thomas Ligotti’s THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY
“We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and the back alleys of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some galactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums … my awe-struck little deer and I have gone frolicking.”
Thomas Ligotti, ‘The Frolic’
I have blogged about this collection before but it definitely needs mentioning again here as he is one of my favourite writers. Ligotti has done something very special in the stories collected here. His horror has been coined ‘philosophical’, a term that tries its best to convey the strangeness, the uncanniness and the thoughtfulness of his haunting prose. For me, it is the feelings I get when reading his stories that make them among my favourites. There is something cosmic, something quite surreal (transcendental?) about his writing that makes reading them a real experience.
Poppy Z. Brite’s WORMWOOD
Strange, sensitive stories of the sort I aspire to write. Brite’s stories are at times subtle examples of quiet horror, at times savage and sexual. The characters within are very human, and often the horror at the heart of a story relates to their suffering or their situation. Atmosphere is also a big player here, drawing the reader into Brite’s rotting, perfumed world, which is, of course, our own, unashamedly shown back to us.
Adam Nevill’s APARTMENT 16
This book terrified me and inspired me in equal measure, and is the only story I am conscious of actually giving me nightmares. It is also the only novel recommendation here, the other books being short story collections. Nevill is an incredibly talented author of British horror and I am quite sure that he is going to be huge one day. What really captured my imagination here is the use of dreams and nightmares and atmosphere to generate a mounting feel of madness and dread. So much contemporary horror fiction relies on violence when it absolutely does not need to, in my opinion. Nevill takes us back to our supernatural roots, in this instance mixing art, horror, hauntings and insanity to create a beautiful, frightening work of fiction.