The novel, not sane, stood by itself against its shelves, holding darkness within.
December 27, 2010 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Literary eerie suspense novelists: I've read and loved a certain type of author and I am looking for more like them. Their main novel tropes are unreliable narrators (i.e., are they being haunted by a ghost or their own mind?) and a good balance of suspense and philosophy (well-paced novels of ideas with likable, believable characters). Prose style is literary and intelligent but not metafictional.

Here are examples of authors whose body of work I've devoured and adored, whether they've written one book or twenty:

Arthur Phillips
David Czuchlewski
Ian McEwan
Patrick McGrath
Audrey Niffenegger
Glen Hirshberg
Andrew Davidson
Margaret Atwood
Joyce Carol Oates
Nigel Farndale
Kazuo Ishiguro
John Harwood
Donna Tartt

Do you know of any others like this? I'll also take suggestions for singular novels that fit the description above. (Think The Haunting of Hill House and The Turn of the Screw). Now, MeFites, do what you do best, and thanks in advance!
posted by xenophile to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The Turn of the Screw is the granddaddy of this genre.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on December 27, 2010

Patricia Highsmith!
posted by aimeedee at 1:29 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out Murakami, in particular A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:32 PM on December 27, 2010

Jonathan Carroll.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:32 PM on December 27, 2010

Hunger, by Knut Hamsun.

Also, Dostoevsky, generally.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:34 PM on December 27, 2010

Have you also read The Jolly Corner? It's late James, and as such a little swirling and narcotic, but definitely worth a look.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:34 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love John Hart's The Last Child.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:34 PM on December 27, 2010

How about Umberto Eco? I don't think The name of the rose or Foucault's pendulum have unreliable narrators - though they're definitely not all-knowing - but everything else seems to fit what you're looking for.
posted by rjs at 1:49 PM on December 27, 2010

Sarah Waters' book The Little Stranger might interest you. You might also enjoy Jeanette Winterson as well. If you read and like The Turn of the Screw, you might find The Yellow Wallpaper to your taste.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 1:53 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

A Good And Happy Child by Justin Evans.

And I'll pre-recommend my sister Rebecca Wolff's first novel The Beginners, out in June :)
posted by nicwolff at 1:55 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Zoe Heller is great with the unreliable narrators.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2010

I'm in the middle of The Woman in White. Really, really enjoying it.
posted by anemone at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2010

Was surprised no one's mentioned phillip k dick. His most known work in this vein is, of course, fight club.
posted by TheBones at 2:13 PM on December 27, 2010

Just in case you'd skipped over it, "The Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly" in JCOates's Haunted... collection is "Turn of the Screw" retold from the POV of the ghosts.

Edgar Allan Poe?
posted by K.P. at 2:26 PM on December 27, 2010

The Little Stranger and Fingersmith by the British writer Sarah Waters are excellent.

I'm now reading an excellent series (that I learned about via Metafilter, actually) by Megan Whalen Turner which I also recommend. The first book is The Thief, and it won a Newberry (a price for children's lit but her writing is excellent whether young adult or no). I enjoyed the second book in the series even more than the first. The third was also good, and I'm looking forward to the fourth.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:28 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Edith Wharton's books also feature unreliable narrators. In particular, you might enjoy Ethan Frome and The Children (not a famous one of hers, but it's excellent).
posted by bluedaisy at 2:29 PM on December 27, 2010

Definitely check out Shirley Jackson, particularly her book We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Unreliable characters, and an eery atmosphere with a sense of dread. The questions are slightly more sociological and psychological than philosophical.
posted by salvia at 2:31 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favorite book I read this year (and now among my top 10 favorites) was Big Machine by Victor LaValle. I'm pretty sure it will suit you very well.
posted by taz at 2:33 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate to be a pain in the ass but Fight Club was written by Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:02 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've MeMailed you, but here's another suggestion - Susan Hill. I haven't read most of her more recent novels but she's definitely there with eerie suspense - see this review.
posted by paduasoy at 3:23 PM on December 27, 2010

Oh, and Angela Carter - perhaps The Bloody Chamber, pretty terrifying reworkings of fairy stories. Some of her novels may be too surreal to fit your criteria (eg The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman) and others too cheerful (despite everything), such as Wise Children and Nights at the Circus, but worth looking at the short stories I think.

And following up S'Tella Fabula's suggestion of Winterson, I think the novel of hers that best fits your criteria is probably The Passion - Amazon listing, Winterson's notes.
posted by paduasoy at 3:31 PM on December 27, 2010

Poe. Seriously, it sounds to me like you're describing, precisely, Edgar Allan Poe.

I'd also consider checking out Franz Kafka.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:35 PM on December 27, 2010

In the Woods by Tana French.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:14 PM on December 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding Murakami, and to oinopaponton's suggestion I'd add Hard-Boiled Wonderland.
posted by bettafish at 4:27 PM on December 27, 2010

John Fowles, especially The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.
posted by chinston at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2010

An Instance of The Fingerpost by Jain Pears meets all your criteria and is a great story. You might also like The Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Conner and The Pact by Jodi Picault.
posted by fshgrl at 5:36 PM on December 27, 2010

Jain = Iain. Stupid phone.
posted by fshgrl at 5:38 PM on December 27, 2010

The New Zealand author Patricia Grace sometimes writes stuff like this. I seem to remember loving her "Baby No-Eyes" when I was going through a period of seeking out stories with unreliable narrators and weird "are they going mad or being haunted?" plots. I think she has some short stories that use those sorts of themes too.
posted by lollusc at 6:18 PM on December 27, 2010

I came in to also recommend The Little Stranger -- that book gave me goosebumps!
posted by ukdanae at 8:04 PM on December 27, 2010

Lionel Davidson's Kolymsky Heights. An absolute mind-blower.

Also, because no one's mentioned him yet, Russell Hoban. Amaryllis Night and Day or The Bat Tattoo would fit your criteria. If you like his style, you'll have a lot to choose from as he's had a long, varied career.
posted by grounded at 8:18 PM on December 27, 2010

I've got the perfect one for you -- I've recommended it on AskMe before, so I hope you don't mind a quick copy-paste of a prior answer:
The book is Night Work by Thomas Glavinic. It's about a man, Jonas, who wakes up one day in Vienna to find that everyone on Earth has inexplicably disappeared. Not died, or fled, but simply vanished into thin air.

It's an impossible situation, and as he roams Europe looking for others he becomes increasingly unstable. Like anyone, he becomes paranoid and suspicious of the world -- he feels as if he's being watched, as though there's some terrible presence lurking just outside his awareness. He tries to push away these fears by recreating his childhood home and searching desperately for his girlfriend, but as time goes on they continue to intrude on him.

I don't want to give away more than is necessary, but before long his fears become tangible in bizarre and disturbing ways. It's an excellent piece of psychological horror, in the most literal sense. And despite being translated into English from German, it is compulsively readable, and recounts the protagonist's journey in a lucid, matter-of-fact tone that is almost cinematic. That may sound dull, but it is very effective when the creepier parts of the book unfold -- it gives them a much more visceral impact.

You can preview the book here; you can't read the whole thing, but you can get a good sense of its style and tone.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:49 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

While classified as a mystery writer I would recommend Ruth Rendell.
Her Inspector Wexford series are standard whodunits, well done whodunits but more
genre fiction than her novels.
The rest of her fiction are usually outstanding psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators and
intricate, finely tuned plot lines. Try Live Flesh or Talking to Strange Men.
She also writes as Barbara Vine.
posted by archaic at 3:48 AM on December 28, 2010

Oh, and don't forget John Banville. The trilogy containing Book Of Evidence, Athena, and Ghosts
would seem to fit the bill.
posted by archaic at 3:51 AM on December 28, 2010

I came on to recommend Sarah Waters as above, but will also add Affinity by the same author.
posted by motsque at 6:55 AM on December 28, 2010

Nthing Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger is pretty much exactly what you've asked for, but Affinity hits many of the same spots and is, for me at least, a much better read.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:29 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Sarah Waters, John Banville, and Jonathan Carroll, yes! I've read all their books and I can't believe I forgot to put their names on the list!

Thanks for all the a big haul from the library last night.
posted by xenophile at 3:27 PM on December 28, 2010

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