I've been making a concerted effort this month to read more creep-inclined books to get into the Halloween spirit. Not all of these are technically horrors but they do all have some spooky or disturbing element. Actually, I'm also only realising now that nearly all of these are books of films that I've already seen..hmm. Not sure how I didn't notice that..
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Probably not the first one you'd think of but as with the film version this is rather disturbing. Set in a dystopian future with a culture of extreme violence (or ultra violence as per the book), our narrator is a teenage Alex and his "droogs" who communicate with each other through "nadsat", a Russian-influenced language used by youths. Together they terrorise their city; sleeping during the day and then at night, roaming the streets; attacking, torturing, raping and murdering those unfortunate enough to cross their paths. So far, so unpleasant. What sets this aside from being just a plain old "nasty" is for one; the incredible use of language. I had previously read a review of this by an American blogger who claimed you could only read this with a word key, otherwise it was almost impossible to understand. Yeah, it really isn't though. The words are derived from old gypsy slang but are mostly made up by Burgess himself so at first there's no frame of reference and they make little sense. It becomes really obvious though what they mean and your brain just substitutes the words for what they should be normally. Also, the use of such unfamiliar words works to blur the violence somewhat; you're aware of what's happening but it seems less visceral somehow. This was what Burgess intended apparently. Anyway, the other thing that sets this apart is what happens when Alex is caught and sent to jail. He convinces the warden to admit him to a new rehabilitation program that's recently been set up, knowing nothing whatsoever about it other than that it'll result in him avoiding further jail time. It actually involves a new experimental behaviour modification technique where Alex is exposed to graphic violence until the sight or even thought of it makes him intensely ill. It's kind of an extreme type of aversion therapy. From there it becomes fascinating to see what happens to him- whether it can work or if he'll return to his old ways. The book also becomes quite philosophical; are we born evil and if so can we change? Are we truly capable of change or are we just inherently the way we are and that's it? I really loved this book, it wasn't always an easy read but even at that I couldn't put it down. If you think "I've seen the film, I don't need to read the book" then you're wrong- they're similar but the book is definitely better (I feel like I say that at least once a week). Read it!
Misery by Stephen King
My love for the work of Mr King is well documented at this stage. Again, I had seen the film version of this many times but had never actually read the book and if reading The Shining has taught me anything it's that the book is always 100% worth a read. That and always be wary of topiary animals. Shudder. Anyway, in Misery, best selling author Paul Sheldon finds himself coming to in an unfamiliar bed in a fog of pain and analgesia but also somehow acutely aware that he's in extreme danger. He discovers he's been in a car crash in the middle of nowhere; his car having gone off the road during a sudden snow storm. Local farmer and ex-nurse Annie Wilkes happened to spot the wreck and rescued him but then claimed he couldn't be brought to a hospital due to the state of the roads, so she splinters his legs (which are basically destroyed) and starts to nurse him back to health. Unfortunately this involves getting him so addicted to codeine that he goes into respiratory arrest several times and because she turns out to be more than a little unhinged, he really suffers at the hands of her sadism. She's also his number one fan which is both a blessing for him (as it means she'll keep him alive to write a novel just for her) and also a curse (as she punishes him for the things he's done to her favourite fictional character, Misery). Really, he doesn't stand a chance. We know it and he knows it, right from the start. In spite of that inevitability, this is just so gripping from the first sentence until the very end. Heads up though, it's way more graphic than the film; if you could only watch certain parts of that through your hands then the book isn't for you. Damn though, Stephen King can write. I've yet to be disappointed by any of his books. Love it.
The Woman In Black by Susan Hill
So I had actually seen both the play and film of this and as they both ended differently I was intrigued to see how the original wold turn out. This was first published in 1983 but is written in the style of a Gothic horror. Arthur Kipps is a retired solicitor enjoying Christmas with his wife and stepchildren when he is forced to remember a horrific experience from his youth. He decides to write his story down and so we learn about the event that changed his life irrevocably all those years ago. While still a junior solicitor he's sent to a small town on the North coast of England to settle up the affairs of Mrs Drablow; an elderly woman who's just died. Her large home is situated in a secluded area that can only be reached by horse and carriage and gets cut off from the mainland by the tide at certain times of the day. When he attends the funeral he sees a mysterious and creepy looking woman in black hanging around and added to that, all of the villagers become monosyllabic when he speaks about visiting Eel Marsh House, where the old lady lived. Still, he's not superstitious so he carries on with his plans and begins to sort through her paperwork. While at Eel March House he begins to experience strange occurrences and generally starts to freak out. Which to be honest, is understandable. Although it is super creepy, I only really felt actual goosebumps during about three parts of the book and I thought it took a long time for the story to fully establish itself. I mean, I was fifty pages in before Arthur gets anywhere near the house, which is pretty far in for a book that only has 200 pages. Having said that, the ending gave me an actual jolt of horror so full marks for that.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Again., saw the film, liked it, picked up the book. It's pretty much just the story of this blog post. This is a YA Rom/Zom/Com. Like Shaun of the Dead but with less falling over fences. 'R' is a zombie and our narrator. He remembers nothing of his life pre-Z other than that his name started with an R. He hangs out with a load of other zombies in an abandoned airport and they all just roam around aimlessly until they need to go for food- when they do they shuffle to the city and hunt down some humans to eat. While on one of these trips he eats this guy but instead of also eating his girlfriend, Juliet, he finds himself drawn to protect her and so brings her back with him to the airplane he calls home. Somehow being around her makes him more human. He begins to speak in four syllables or more, feels little flutterings in his heart and an overall warmth when he's around Juliet (who by the way is pretty cool. She doesn't generally need rescuing and takes no crap from anyone). It kind of turns into a zombie version of Romeo and Juliet when her father finds out about their blossoming love and overall it's pretty heart warming. I've never actually read anything from the perspective of a zombie before so this was certainly a novel concept. It is by the way, absolutely terror-free.
For some reason, this month I developed a strong urge to re-read some Point Horrors. I used to love these when I was a pre-teen and my library in Limerick had a really great selection. I actually don't remember reading any of these three but the lovely Sharon from Behind Green Eyes very kindly sent them on to me after we discussed our mutual fondness for these mildly scary 90's books. They all have fairly similar plots; a school or college student finds themselves in a creepy situation with what seems like an obvious culprit who is usually just a red herring. In spite of not remembering these specific books, it was still really enjoyable taking a walk down memory lane- they are all basically the exact same book at the end of the day. Kind of nice being eleven there again for a while!
Do you read themed books depending on the time of year or is that just me being a big book nerd?! What's your favourite horror read?