A Dark Library. A Personal Selection:
I’ve made a personal selection of fiction titles I have read over the years that really affected me and stirred the darker parts of my imagination, that gave me that requisite level of wonder and awe. These are books that made me want to write and to keep writing too. They’re in no particular order of preference or merit, but if you want to abandon life for a year or more and read something excellent and return a changed and stranger person, then start acquiring the following. Or, less ambitiously, if you wish to read something just excellent, all the time marvelling at the imagination and craft involved, then start acquiring these.For more recommendations please see my page at Goodreads
Songs of a Dead Dreamer; Grimscribe; Noctuary; My Work is Not Yet Done; Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti. A genius. As original a writer as Poe and Lovecraft.
Every Dead Thing and The Black Angel – John Connolly. Beside Thomas Harris, I think Connolly is just about the finest writer I’ve found in the glut of crime/thriller out there. He fuses and crosses genres and is by no means solely a crime writer. As good a modern horror writer as the very best.
Silence of the Lambs; Hannibal; Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris. Probably, and ironically, responsible in part for sinking horror fiction in the early nineties by moving the human agent – the serial killer – to centre stage. Still copied by about 20,000 other writers a year, but never matched. Harris is the real deal – a great writer, a master, who happens to write in a popular genre.
A Choir of Ill Children; November Mourns; Headstone City by Tom Piccirilli. A recent discovery of mine, and a writer of such powerful imaginings and range as a writer, these three novels had me gripped and left me in awe. Beautiful strangeness.
Blood Meridian; The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Terrifying and heartbreaking. Everything at stake all of the time. What a writer. Left me staring into space long after I’d closed these books.
Use Once The Destroy by Conrad Williams: terrific writer unable to not be fresh and original in every line of prose he writes.
The White Hands and Other Stories by Mark Samuels – a terrific short story writer in a parallel universe to Thomas Ligotti.
From Blue to Black by Joel Lane – One of the best modern ghost stories I’ve read. Tremendous literary novel and exceptional supernatural fiction.
The Ice Monkey and Other Stories by M John Harrison.
The Collected Strange Stories I, II by Robert Aickman – referring to the two incredible Tartarus Press editions. Original, disturbing, weird, and beautiful.
LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, LA Confidential, The Big Nowhere, White Jazz) by James Ellroy – a noir crime writer who delves into such dysfunction, madness and horror, he should have an honorary chair in the horror hall of fame.
M R James – Ghost Stories of an Antiquary; More Ghost Stories. The master. Enough said.
Algernon Blackwood – A giant in the field. Try Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural, though it doesn’t include the magnificent The Willows.
Arthur Machen – His story The White People is just extraordinary. His work is scattered through a zillion collections, but the Tartarus Tales of Horror and the Supernatural is a great way to start.
Walter de la Mare – Has written short stories to equal anything in the field. Read the stories Crewe and Seaton’s Aunt to see what I mean, and try and get a copy of Best Stories of Walter de la Mare.
Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg – Noir devilry. If only more modern horror novels were this good.
The Exorcist; Legion by William Peter Blatty – Made me leave the lights on at an embarrassing age. Few have been able to convey evil like Blatty. Legion is a perfect blend of horror and crime thriller. Wish he’d written more.
Last Things by David Searcy – picked this gem up in a bookshop in New York because I liked the cover, and blurb. If William Faulkner had written a horror novel, it could have ended up like this. Faulkner meets M R James. I know nothing about the writer, but he did win a Bram Stoker for the perplexing Ordinary horror.
The Shining and Pet Sematary by Stephen King – hard to think of more definitive examples of great modern horror novels – from narrative craft and structure to all round descriptive excellence.
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – essential reading.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James – ditto
Katherine Mansfield – tremendous short story writer. Look for a collection containing classic stories like Bliss, and The Wind Blows.
Dark Gods by TED Klein – three novellas that rocked my world, particularly Nadelman’s God.
War of the Worlds and The Time Machine by H G Wells.
Alone with the Horrors – Ramsey Campbell. A writer who can make anything disturbing.
Blood and Water and Other Tales; Asylum both by Patrick McGrath – a sublime and twisted darkness
The Collector by John Fowles – breathtaking depiction of a deviant killer and his female victim.
The Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A beautiful poetic grotesque
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner. Not an easy read but ultimately rewarding – had never read a novel structured like this before.
The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Grin of the Dark, The Nameless, Midnight Sun, The Seven Days of Cain, The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell. For surreal terrors imagined and real, grim humour, a literature of paranoia, and sheer mastery of language, these are some of my favourite novels.
The Terror by Dan Simmons – a master storyteller and poet. Not just a great horror novel, but a wonderful historical account of arctic adventure, a thriller and magnificent evocation of an arctic landscape.
World War Z by Max Brookes – wonderful fictional non-fiction, an alternative history and the best ever homage to Romero’s the-dead-have-risen concepts.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – great speculative weird tale, whilst also being a shocking investigation into human cruelty.
Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan – wonderful study of eccentricity in isolation and probably the most heart-breaking novel I have read.
Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco – almost the father of modern haunted house novels. Such a deft touch and incremental build of the inexplicable. Truly haunting.
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson – has that particular insight and turn-of-phrase, in the region of domestic horror, that great female writers often demonstrate. I’m thinking Lionel Shriver and Catherine Mansfield.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – deserving a throne made of antlers and bone in the horror hall of fame. Saul Bellow exquisite. A great American novel.
H P Lovecraft – the complete works.
Others that left a lasting impression:
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson; First Love, Last Rites; In Between the Sheets; The Cement Garden; Black Dogs; The Comfort of Strangers all by Ian McKewan; The Secret History – Donna Tartt; Perfume – Patrick Suskind; The Underground Man – Mick Jackson; The Painted Bird – Jerzi Kosinski; Glister and The Dumb House by John Burnside