In search of wonderfully wacked-out fiction by women writers
July 8, 2023 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I recently finished Bones and All by Camille DeAngelis, Melmoth by Sarah Perry, and The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I'm finding a lot of catharsis and introspection reading books that address the monstrous while being written from a female perspective, and I'm now seeking more recommendations for my reading list.

I was always a fan of contemporary horror novels growing up, but past my teen years fell out of love with the genre due to the often shallow female representation and misogyny displayed by male authors. But my love of the genre has begun to return after reading some truly excellent work by women authors, and I'm looking for more recommendations!

Gross-out content, body horror, trauma, and the monstrous feminine are all themes that are fine by me. I enjoy being shocked, quite frankly. I am not as much interested in procedural mystery-horror style books, but I'm not entirely opposed to the idea. The only requirement is no dude-centric content, please. If I have to read a male author describe a female character's "perky breasts" one more time I will simply explode.

So, kind mefites, do you have any book recommendations to disgust and frighten?
posted by Pemberly to Writing & Language (46 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage.
posted by BibiRose at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2023 [4 favorites]

I loved Gretchen Felker-Martin's Ego Homini Lupus, which is a medieval-set horror fantasy centered mostly on female characters. Nobody does sex and the monstrous quite like she does. Manhunt is her best known one but that one's more coherent, by which I mean boring.

Kathe Koja's The Cipher is quite good. Male protagonist but he's not leering and the female antagonist, Nakota, is something else.
posted by kingdead at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Last one for a while, I promise. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite doesn't have the actual body horror like the ones I just listed but it's one of those books you read thinking, "Oh my god this is so messed up." Funny and clever and very dark.
posted by BibiRose at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

T. Kingfisher is Ursula Vernon’s alter ego for books written for adults. Try The Twisted Ones or The Hollow Places.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:19 PM on July 8, 2023 [7 favorites]

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder might be up your alley (also soon to be a movie with Amy Adams)

Full Disclosure: I haven't read the book, but I knew the author back in grad school 15 years ago.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:22 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

I too love this genre and Eileen is probably one of my favorite books of the last decade in that realm. Moshfegh's newest, Lapvana, seems to be gross for gross's sake — i haven't read it yet but it appears to fit. Year of rest by her is also great.

I also just read The Guest by Emma Cline which i LOVED and had a vibe very similar to Eileen even though it was completely different.

You might also like modern gothic lit like Shirley Jackson's Hill House or Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I also absolutely LOVED The Bitch (Perrita) by Pilar Quintana.
posted by Brittanie at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers.
posted by Fuego at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2023

Carmen Maria Machado and Angela Carter come to mind.
posted by matildaben at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2023 [7 favorites]

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
posted by Chenko at 12:53 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

seconding A Certain Hunger. In the foodie vein (although not cannibalistic) I also like Supper Club by Lara Williams
posted by acidic at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2023

You must read Boy Parts by Eliza Clark. My one sentence review on Goodreads after reading this book was “ I found this completely unpleasant… but worth it.”
posted by SomethinsWrong at 1:17 PM on July 8, 2023

The Power by Naomi Alderman
posted by Leontine at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2023

Some recentish titles that might fit the bill that haven’t been mentioned yet:

Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot
Nutting’s Made for Love
Morgan’s A Touch of Jen
Kohda’s Woman Eating
Beagin’s Big Swiss

Happy reading!
posted by pinkacademic at 1:20 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I no longer read male authors. Too many breasts with a plot device attached. I also love ghost stories so end up reading horror occasionally. I recommend checking out the who subgenre of Black Horror, especially anything by Tananarive Due ( start with The Good House) because there are lots of amazing female black horror writers, and even the male ones tend to be less dude-centric.

Lakewood by Megan Giddings (if you only try one from this list, let it be this one)

Anything by Helen Oyeyemi

Nothing But Blackened Teeth, Cassandra Khaw

The Return, Rachel Harrison (omg so gross. you'll like this one)

The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits

The Upstairs house, Julia Fine

Hench : a novel. Natalie Zina Walschots (not horror, but I think this might also scratch your itch for reasons I won't explain because it would involve spoilers)

Eva moves the furniture, Margot Livesey (might be more drama less gross than you want)

The Bandit Queens, Parini Shroff (not horror, but women behaving badly. also hilarious)
posted by EllaEm at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2023 [5 favorites]

Lakewood by Megan Giddings (if you only try one from this list, let it be this one)

Hard agree.
posted by BibiRose at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I really liked (and was deeply disturbed by) some of the short stories in Bora Chung's Cursed Bunny.
posted by adiabat at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2023

The Need by Helen Philips is intense and brilliant.
posted by longtime_lurker at 2:02 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

You must read Out, by Natsuo Kirino. It's stuck with me for the better part of 20 years.
posted by Threeve at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2023

Seconding Angela Carter - maybe The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman or The Bloody Chamber.

Jeanette Winterson - Sexing the Cherry.
posted by paduasoy at 2:06 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Audrey Szasz. 'Zealous Immaculate' is a good starting point.
posted by remembrancer at 2:09 PM on July 8, 2023

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Toll by Cherie Priest

Nthing Angela Carter and looking forward to other suggestions!
posted by the primroses were over at 2:20 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

I loved Melmoth!

VenCo by Cherie Dimaline
The Change by Kristin Miller.
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Trickster Trilogy by Eden Robinson
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

A second thumbs up for Carmen Maria Machado. I think Julia Armfield would also fit the bill here.
posted by komlord at 3:15 PM on July 8, 2023

Third thumbs up for Machado. I listened to the audiobook for Her Body and Other Parties and at times it made me want to crawl out of my skin.
posted by ejs at 3:24 PM on July 8, 2023

Also, if you would consider a graphic novel, “The Crossroads at Midnight” by Abby Howard is excellent.
posted by ejs at 3:51 PM on July 8, 2023

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley is SO weird and full of body horror and general goopiness and no male characters at all.
posted by moonmilk at 4:22 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

Finally! A place where I can recommend Bunny, by Mona Awad.
posted by oxisos at 4:42 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

Once again, I'll recommend Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It's one of those books that I wasn't sure if I enjoyed it while reading, but definitely lives rent free in my brain. Body horror galore and weirdly beautiful prose.

Kristen Roupenian's short story collection Cat Person/You Know You Want This was good for this too.

Also agree with Carmen Maria Machado, Ottessa Moshfegh and Nightbitch.
posted by Paper rabies at 5:18 PM on July 8, 2023 [2 favorites]

"I enjoy being shocked, quite frankly."
Then please pick up The Pianist by Elfriede Jelinek.
posted by Rora at 6:05 PM on July 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic came to mind for me immediately! It's exceptionally chilling.
posted by lavenderhaze at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2023 [3 favorites]

Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb
A Fool's Paradise by Anita Konkka
posted by perhapses at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2023

I also loved Melmoth! Great campy horror.

Sisters and Everything Under, both by Daisy Johnson are great. Everything Under in particular ticks some of your boxes (body horror, the monstrous feminine). Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield explores similar themes, but is less obviously a horror story.

I cannot recommend Dawn (and the rest of the Xenogenesis trilogy) by Octavia Butler highly enough. This is solidly a scifi novel (not horror) but it's got tons of body horror and gender stuff. Incredible book.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss has a kind of Wicker Man vibe, but is a bit less deranged and has a lot more to say about gender.

+1 for The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Circe by Madeline Miller, already mentioned above.
posted by caek at 9:32 PM on July 8, 2023

Gingerbread: A Novel, by Helen Oyeyemi
posted by estherbester at 11:34 PM on July 8, 2023

... for some reason I have literally never processed Octavia Butler as horror (versus sf) but this makes so much sense. Wow.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:31 AM on July 9, 2023

Speaking of Octavia Butler, try Fledgling
posted by Acari at 6:10 AM on July 9, 2023

Tell Me I'm Worthless by Allison Rumfitt

Vagabonds! by Elghosa Osunde (not body horror... more queer existential horror)

The Fifth Wound by Aurora Mattia

stories by Joe Koch
posted by kokaku at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson is recommended above by Paduasoy. It's not horror (mostly) but the main female character, the Dog Woman, is gigantic and filthy and grotesque and loves her life. I'd say it's Hogarthian Baroque in a very 1990s way.

Rosie Garland's The Palace of Curiosities is also lovely in a quieter fashion, dealing with two physically unusual characters and the home they find in a seedy Victorian London sideshow.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:01 AM on July 9, 2023

You Fed Us To The Roses by Carlie St. George is short stories that fits the bill here, I think.

House of Cotton by Monica Brashears is another one I'd recommend, it's not Bones-and-All-level gory but it's creepy and gorgeously written.

Seconding Catriona Ward, she's great. I've read both Sundial and Last House on Needless Street, and while they do have some dude characters, they're female-centric and neither book goes where you'd expect. (CW for animal cruelty in both of those though.)

Also, if you've never read Red As Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee, I remember that being a really fun one. It came out in the 80s so I'm not sure how it holds up, but it's feminist horror retellings of all the Grimm's Fairy Tales and it's a blast.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:47 AM on July 9, 2023

A couple of comments on other people's recommendations;
The Cypher's great, but a lot of readers bounce off the book, because almost everyone's unlikable.
The Return's very much "horror invades 'chick lit'". I thought that the ending was true to both. It's not something I'd normally read, but I'm glad that I did.
posted by Spike Glee at 9:28 AM on July 9, 2023

Nicola Griffith's Slow River.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:23 AM on July 9, 2023

I think you’ll enjoy Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy Snyder - body horror galore!
posted by K0dama at 11:56 AM on July 9, 2023

Follow me to Ground by Sue Rainsford is weird, chilling and dreamy in all the best ways.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 PM on July 9, 2023

Oh! One more: The Diviners, by Libba Bray. Parts of it are extremely creepy, but it is an enjoyable well rounded read. It’s the first in a trilogy but I can only vouch for this book as I haven’t yet finished the other two.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:04 PM on July 9, 2023

The book by Helen Oyeyemi that most comes to mind is White is for Witching: it is a haunted house story with just extraordinary psychological depth.
posted by spindle at 11:42 AM on July 10, 2023

Rikki Ducornet may be what you're looking for, and God help you.
posted by Rykey at 1:44 PM on July 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yellowface by RF Kuang. No body horror but it's a really good unreliable narrator thriller from the point of view of a white woman who might be a narcissist. There are a lot of women in this book, none of whom behave well.
posted by lunasol at 6:52 PM on July 10, 2023

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