Give me some good, weird books to read.
November 16, 2019 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I've been having trouble finding books that interest me lately, until I realized that I'm really looking for weird, spooky books. The one that really scratched that itch was Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. What should I read next?

My obsession got rolling with this when Jezebel's annual scary story contest was posted, but I quickly tired of the real life stories and related creepypasta. What I want are tales with beautiful prose, quirky characters, and the right amount of weirdness.

In general, I like lit fic, magical realism, and dystopian novels. The most similar book that hits these themes has been Carmen Maria Machado's short stories. Others that I've read lately that I have liked (but don't quite fit the creepiness quote) include Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police, Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth, and most Murakami, but especially Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (although I hate how he writes his women characters). I've been having an easier time finding weird rather than the creepy side, so I'd be especially interested in anything which fits that bill.

What I'm not looking for: straight-up fantasy, or straight-up realism, or things that are scary because they are awful (e.g. I did not go nuts over The Feminist). I'm okay with bad shit happening, but content warnings appreciated. I didn't find House of Leaves as scary as everyone else seemed to, maybe because the writing in the first few chapters seemed too faux-academic to pull me in. I've read plenty of Stephen King and I don't think that's what I'm after.

Hit me up with your recommendations! Thanks all!
posted by Paper rabies to Writing & Language (42 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
Not a book but an FPP that's a pretty good match for your long description: Weird Tales from the 20th Century.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:10 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What I’m reading at the moment might fit the bill: the starless sea by Erin Morgenstern
posted by EatMyHat at 1:11 PM on November 16, 2019

HEX by Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It is interesting, weird, haunting, well written and very gripping.
posted by August Fury at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Obvious answer, sorry: I'm assuming you've already read more Shirley Jackson?
posted by The AhForgetIt Tendency at 1:47 PM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Maybe Under the Skin by Michael Faber.
posted by XtineHutch at 1:49 PM on November 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm enjoying The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter.
posted by Chenko at 1:51 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I read Gabe Habash's Stephen Florida in one sitting, and found it eerie in a way that's hard to explain but was almost a physical sensation. (btw, when I see "creepy story about an obsessive college athlete" I just assume sexual violence is happening somewhere; as far as I can remember, that's not part of the story.)

I get a somewhat similar vibe off Kelly Link as I do Carmen Maria Machado. There's a story about astronauts' ghost stories in Get In Trouble I was thinking about for days.

Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh I would also classify as good and weird.
posted by jameaterblues at 1:55 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Master of the Day of Judgment.

The Master and Margarita.

(Weird linking because I’m on my iPad.)
posted by FencingGal at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: Kelly Link is a great source for creepy/strange/weird.

Also you might try the Area X trilogy.
posted by minervous at 1:57 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

* The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell
* We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
* Night Film by Marisha Pessl
* Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff
posted by dgeiser13 at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway is extremely weird and funny, not creepy per se but quite horrifying in sum.
posted by ejs at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh man oh man oh man I have very very similar tastes as you and boy howdy am I excited to hear what you think about The Library At Mount Char, which is probably my favorite absolutely bizarre book I've read in the last... very long time.

If you're down for something that is more fantasy/sci-fi with the aesthetics of horror and some bits and pieces of creeping strangeness, Gideon the Ninth might be up your alley too.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:22 PM on November 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

Quick follow-up: There is sexual violence in The Library at Mount Char but it's surrealist and not graphic and bothered me, at least, a lot less than many other types of sexual violence in my reading material has previously. But still, content warning.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:24 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Gilded Needles by Michael McDowell.
posted by silence down below at 3:58 PM on November 16, 2019

Tim Powers might appeal!
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 3:59 PM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One of the best contemporary authors of magical realism is Karen Russell. Her short story collection,Vampire's in the Lemon Grove, really runs the gambit between "kind of funny" to "downright spooky" and weird. Quite a few of her stories definitely have that a Jackson-esque New England horror vibe. I would actually skip the lead story - Vampires in the lemon grove - as it's by far the weakest and more of a melodrama.

Not necessarily scary - but very unsettling in a spooky, atmospheric way- is Samantha Hunt's novel Mr. Splitfoot. There are *possible* deaths in the story, but they're not very graphic. There's also suggested sexual assault - but it's not explicit at all.
posted by oxfordcomma at 4:17 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Children's Children by Jan Carson
Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack
posted by fshgrl at 4:25 PM on November 16, 2019

Second Otessa Moshfegh; all of her books are good, weird, and a little unsettling. HFAW is great, Eileen would also be right up your alley.

Duplex by Kathryn Davis.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.
posted by stellaluna at 4:32 PM on November 16, 2019

I’m going to be the third person to recommend Kelly Link—she was the first author I thought of when reading your question.

Have you read Daphne DuMaurier? Rebecca was very spooky/tense for me.
posted by epj at 5:19 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm gonna recommend Kameron Hurley's The Stars Are Legion.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:51 PM on November 16, 2019

Response by poster: Oh man, I am EXCITED. Thank you for these recommendations (and please, keep them coming!). A few quick replies:

- I haven't read any more Shirley Jackson (aside from The Lottery like 15 years ago), so that is a good place to start. The AhForgetIt Tendency, if you have any specific recommendations, I'm happy to hear them!
- I was very into the Area X trilogy so that is on point.
- I've read very little else that's been mentioned, which is encouraging! The only Karen Russell I've read is Swamplandia! which kinda kicked my ass emotionally but I couldn't get it out of my head, so may be worth checking out more from her.
- I loved Ottessa Mosfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but that's all I've read from her. So will be picking up some of the other books listed here.
posted by Paper rabies at 6:20 PM on November 16, 2019

Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall. Also, her short stories.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 7:07 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like the kind of books you like. I think you are going to be excited by Angela Carter stuff, so good! Also you might be interested in Geek Love though it might move too far over into creepy.

Other suggestions

- The Magus - an odd postmodern novel, good but a little confusing, for me
- Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer - and other stuff from Millhauser
- The Aviary - sort of a classic YA story which is a lot like the Jackson book in some ways

There is sexual violence in The Library at Mount Char but it's surrealist and not graphic and bothered me,

I picked up this book because, hey, library, and it was a little too much for me. Not because of the sexual violence, per se, but because of the utter hopelessness of it (and some violence, iirc, towards animals which is a huge NOPE from me). It's very good and strange, however.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You definitely want to read Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. You might also like Karen Tidbeck, I loved Amatka and haven't read her short stories but they're also weird. Someone mentioned Helen Oyeyemi but I'd say specifically White Is for Witching.
posted by babelfish at 7:24 PM on November 16, 2019

I'm also an Ottessa Mosfegh fan. I think you would like Chocky by John Wyndmam and definitely Metropole by Ferenc Karininthy
posted by perhapses at 9:07 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” is a true masterpiece of literary horror and has the same kind of complicated female characters “We Have Always...” has. I am jealous, I wish I could read it for the first time again! The plot bears no similarity to the Netflix series, in case that matters.

I think you’d also love Paul Tremblay’s “A Head Full of Ghosts.” All of his stuff is good, but that’s my favorite. It’s very clearly influenced by “House of Leaves” but does away with a lot of the flaws you identified.
posted by cakelite at 9:14 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

My spooky tolerance is for sure lower than yours, but I found David Mitchell's the Bone Clocks to be both spooky and weird AND (bonus) very Literary in the sense of the other books on your list.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:42 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lavie Tidhar might work for you. Sci-fi fantasy and definitely weird, but not horror.

China Mieville is more of the same, but different of course.

Much of Charles Stross's Laundry series have elements of horror. It's written in a very humorous way but take away the laughs and there's some really dire and deadly stuff going on there.
posted by ashbury at 9:53 PM on November 16, 2019

Best answer: A very British selection, but that I think gives you the beautiful prose, quirky characters, and the right amount of weirdness you're looking for.

The Sing Of The Shore by Lucy Wood - a terrific set of short stories all set in a bleak, misty Cornwall, and shot through with a vague sense of unease, dread and the weird. Also recommend her novel 'Weathering'.

With a heavier dose of the outright weird, then Daisy Johnson's short story collection Fen is terrific too, reads like dark modern folklore. A girl starves herself until she becomes an eel. An old flame returns as a fox. And likewise, her novel Everything Under is great - a strange modern reinterpretation of Oedipus...on a canal boat.

While I'm talking folklore, Zoe Gilbert's Folk is a superb debut. A collection of short stories set on the same island, but they come together in a whole. And just look at that of my favourite bits of cover art in the last few years.

Jenn Ashworth's Fell is moving, strange and hard to describe. It's a haunted house story, told by the ghosts that haunt it and have to watch what happens after they are gone. But it's not a ghost story. It's a story of their daughter, and living, and grief, and a strange young man in a north-west seaside town who might just be able to cure sickness...but not all the time. Beautifully written.

Other options - Michael Andrew Hurley's The Loney, and Devil's Day, both rooted in the English landscape, strange and powerful.

Finally, for now, an inventive short novel by Max Porter, Lanny: a boy who is lost - or who has chosen to become lost, the whispered thoughts of the people of the village he lives in (like a Greek chorus, and beautifully typographically rendered), and a presence older than the village.

They're all very different books, but I can draw a line between them that links them, and that line is what I love and what speaks to me.
posted by reynir at 2:47 AM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Gerald Durrell, whose work was mostly joyous and charming, wrote - to my knowledge - exactly one horror story, called The Entrance, which is unbelievably scary and gothic-creepy and spooky. It's in this otherwise meh collection.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:10 AM on November 17, 2019

China Miéville in general, but maybe start with the novella This Census-Taker.
posted by neushoorn at 7:34 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:06 AM on November 17, 2019

Thomas Ligotti's short fiction is polarizing, but is certainly worth a try.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2019

Best answer: Aliya Whiteley's stories are creepy, weird and beautifully written. More fantastical than Shirley Jackson and with a very weird sensibility. I really liked The Arrival of Missives, The Beauty is creepy as hell and gave me nightmares, with a certain amount of body horror and gender comment. The Loosening Skin is on my to-be-read list.
posted by tavegyl at 11:24 AM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz is a really great, very creepy with subtle magical realism elements. might just fit the bill for you :)
posted by gabeos at 2:51 PM on November 17, 2019

A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans
posted by nicwolff at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kobo Abe's Secret Rendezvous is one of my favorite weirdo books. What's great about Abe, in general, is that he manages to make the very strange seem completely reasonable in his universe.
posted by laze at 8:14 AM on November 19, 2019

Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani is the weirdest book I've read that is also spooky. It's probably the weirdest book I've read in general, but it's spooky too. If the faux-academic stuff in House of Leaves kept you from enjoying that, skip this recommendation though.

Weird literary fiction (though not really that spooky):
Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel
Motorman by David Ohle
posted by davedave at 11:40 PM on November 19, 2019

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, a terrific literary thriller/philosophical novel that mashes up concrete poetry, Jaws, and Memento. An amnesiac wakes to find a series of letters from himself warning that he's being hunted by a conceptual shark, which feeds on human memories.
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2019

How do you get on with M.R. James-esque ghost stories? Michelle Paver has written some. There are two 1930s tales of British expeditions gone wrong: Dark Matter (nominated for a Shirley Jackson award), set in the Arctic, and Thin Air, set in the Himalayas. Her latest, which I haven't read yet, is Wakenhyrst, set in an Edwardian manor house. Why am I recommending a book I haven't read? Because I was glad to have read both the first two... and especially glad to have read them in broad daylight, and am therefore waiting till I have a spare day at home before I read the third.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:54 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding The Library At Mount Chat. It's super wierd and very dark. Also, one of my favorite books I've read in the last ten years, Karen Russel's Swamplandia. It's just crazy good, but there is a rape that occurs.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:51 PM on November 22, 2019

Best answer: I'm kicking myself that I did not also recommend my other favorite surrealist horror novel of the last ten years, Indra Das' The Devourers. It's an incredible weird fever dream of a book (and also contains a rape scene, although as I recall it is not hugely graphic either. In general, the book is.... earthy. A lot of bodily functions. But it's the best werewolf fiction I've ever read and entirely worth it.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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