Book recommendations
September 4, 2014 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Looking for recent books that are 1) atmospherically creepy without going into horror, 2) based on a "what-if" situation, and/or 3) have interesting female characters.

Examples and publishing date requirements:
1) Atmospherically creepy - something like We Have Always Lived in the Castle or Flowers in the Attic (though I'm hoping to get more highbrow suggestions than the latter). Post-1960.

2) What-if situations - like Saramago's Blindness (what if there were a blindness epidemic) or Death with Interruptions (what if there were a country free of death), erring away from sci-fi and toward speculative fiction (sorry, I know this is a vague requirement). Post-1990.

3) Interesting female characters - most of the recent literary novels I've read have female characters as interesting as cardboard and serve just to push the male's story forward. I'd very much like to avoid this. Bonus if it's by a male author. Post-2000.*

*This date range is very important, since for some reason I find it so much easier to find such female characters in 'classic' works than in modern ones.

No YA, please.

I'd love to find a book that falls into all three categories, but please suggest away if it falls into even one of them.

Also, Munro, Woolf, and Nabokov are my own little literary gods, so major plus if the book has similarly beautiful prose.

posted by rebooter to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane?
posted by bfranklin at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry meets your criteria perfectly.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:40 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Annihilation is probably the creepiest thing I've read all year, and all the main characters are women. He's a science fiction writer but the book is not sci fi in the classic sense of spaceships and aliens; all you know is that something has happened. It's the first in a trilogy but the second is quite different in tone than the first. The third one just came out this week.
posted by something something at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

The final book of Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy just came out. The titles are Annihilation , Authority, and Acceptance. Male author, female protagonist, weird atmosphere of dread but not really horrific.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid's Tale - what if the American Taliban managed to take power?

P.D James, Children of Men - what if humans lost the ability to reproduce? (fails pretty hard on the 3rd criterion, if memory serves.)
posted by sparklemotion at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman? Nails 1 and 3... 2 sort of
posted by ista at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2014

How about The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier? Published less than ten years ago, female protagonist, VERY strong what-if, and if not creepy, at least a little spooky at times.
posted by the_blizz at 9:43 AM on September 4, 2014

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan. Checks all three. Published 2012.

- What-if situation: A ship sinks for mysterious reasons, and the story mostly takes place on an overcrowded lifeboat with limited space and resources.
- Atmospherically creepy: It's a chaotic situation, and no one is really quite what they seem. The whole thing takes place in 1914.
- Interesting female characters: Told from the potentially unreliable perspective of Grace Winter, a young newlywed, who is one of the last people to get to the boat.
posted by mochapickle at 9:43 AM on September 4, 2014

Jincy Willett's Winner of the National Book Award is a terrific book centered around two sisters who a great characters. Ms. Willett writes some fierce dialogue in the book, published in 2004.
posted by PaulBGoode at 9:45 AM on September 4, 2014

The Age of Miracles fits all three of your criteria. So does Night Film, I believe.
posted by jbickers at 9:46 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett.
posted by brookeb at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2014

I am gonna recommend Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, whcih is out next week. It's about a flu pandemic that hits in the near future. There are a lot of really cool women characters, and the main character is an actress in a traveling troupe (there are a couple of prominent male characters as well, but I'd consider her the primary one).
posted by leesh at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Memoirs of an Invisible Man. A really good (and visceral) thought experiment on what it would actually be like to be invisible (hint: not great). A couple interesting female characters, but note that the protagonist (per title) is male.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:19 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Duplex! Please read Duplex by Kathryn Davis!! It was the best, female-specific-kind-of-spooky book I read all year. The NYT review is what convinced me to read it, and I'm so glad I did.
posted by stellaluna at 10:28 AM on September 4, 2014

Ooh, please don't miss this chance to check out the awesomely eerie Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen or early Kate Atkinson like Human Croquet or Behind the Scenes at the Museum.
posted by nkknkk at 10:30 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Shining Girls is on sale at Amazon today and I think fits the bill.
posted by CMcG at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2014

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2014

The Likeness by Tana French!
posted by whodatninja at 10:49 AM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It really only strongly hits Number 2 on your list, but if you are a fan of speculative fiction, it would be a shame to pass up China MiƩville's The City and The City.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:04 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you read Elizabeth Hand? Her prose is stunning, and she's great at creepy.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2014

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. Both of them hit #s 1, 2, and 3 and feature well-written prose (especially NLMG, which I found extremely moving). The less you know about them before you read them, the better.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:15 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about Kate Atkinson's Life After Life? Interesting female protagonist and the whole book is a series of what ifs.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 4:17 PM on September 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I came to recommend The Thirteenth Tale. Since that's been done, I second it.
posted by checkitnice at 5:33 PM on September 4, 2014

It's been a while since I read these, but Margaret Atwood's work is so prescient about women's dark side that I remember them as horror stories:
The Robber Bride,
Cat's Eye, and
Oryx and Crake.
posted by mmiddle at 5:46 PM on September 4, 2014

Poke around some of Patricia Highsmith. A little out of your criteria, but she has some pretty creepy atmospherics, esp. in her short stories.

Had a thing for snails....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 PM on September 4, 2014

Anything by Lionel Shriver. Especially: The Post-Birthday World. It's sort of a sliding doors story and it's fantastic.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:08 PM on September 4, 2014

Thanks very much, everyone. Check back in a year or so for best answers when I get through these. Here's the compiled list:

Atkinson, Kate - Human Croquet; Behind the Scenes at the Museum; Life After Life
Atwood, Margaret - A Handmaid's Tale; The Robber Bride; Cat's Eye; Oryx and Crake
Bennett, Robert Jackson - American Elsewhere
Beukes, Lauren - The Shining Girls
Brockmeier, Kevin - The Brief History of the Dead
Davis, Kathryn - Duplex
French, Tana - The Likeness
Gaiman, Neil - Ocean at the End of the Lane; Coraline
Hand, Elizabeth
Highsmith, Patricia
Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
James, P.D. - Children of Men
Link, Kelly - Stranger Things Happen
Mandel, Emily St. John - Station Eleven (to be released Sept. 9)
MiƩville, China - The City and The City
Niffenegger, Audrey - Her Fearful Symmetry
Pessl, Marisha - Night Film
Rogan, Charlotte - The Lifeboat
Saint, H.F. - Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Setterfield, Diane - The Thirteenth Tale
Shriver, Lionel - The Post-Birthday World
Vandermeer, Jeff - Southern Reach trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance
Walker, Karen Thompson - The Age of Miracles
Willett, Jincy - Winner of the National Book Award
posted by rebooter at 8:44 PM on September 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I just found this thread and just wanted to mention that the comments stay open for a year, just in case you wanted to report back on any you've read along the way! (I'd be interested in hearing if you liked them, anyway)

I'm starting Annihilation tonight.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2014

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