Eight unsettling reads for midwinter
During difficult times, some people like to read fun books to escape the grim mood – and some people like to read books that allow them to press on the feeling. If you want to lean into the dark months of winter and the disquiet of lockdown, then we’ve put together some of the best new books that use horror, dystopia, stark reality, black comedy and extreme oddity to unsettle.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.
Elderly widow Vesta comes across a mysterious note on her daily walk in the woods. Her curiosity quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, as she explores multiple theories about who Magda was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But is there either a more innocent explanation for all this, or a much more sinister one - one that strikes closer to home? Death in Her Hands is an unforgettable literary blend of suspense, horror and blackest humour.
Devolution by Max Brooks
Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, Devolution is a Bigfoot story like you’ve never read before.
As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption finally settled, the story of the savage and bloody Greenloop massacre comes to life through the journals of resident Kate Holland. Max Brooks faithfully reproduces Kate’s words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the beasts behind it, once thought legendary but now known to be terrifyingly real. The result is a cryptozoological thriller that blends the real and the imaginary, and contains enough graphic action to satisfy straight-up horror fans.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun (translated by Lizzie Buehler)
Yona works for Jungle, a travel company specialising in package holidays to destinations ravaged by disaster. When she makes a sexual harassment complaint the company tries to bury her allegations with an attractive proposition: a free ticket to the desert island of Mui, where the major attraction is a supposedly-dramatic sinkhole. When the customers who’ve paid a premium for the trip begin to get frustrated, Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting.
This absurd and unsettling adventure calls into question the costs of travel - economic, environmental, cultural, psychic – and the myriad ways travel can exploit people and places.
Rise & Shine by Patrick Allington
In a world where eight billion souls have perished in an ecological collapse, the survivors huddle together apart in the warring city-states of Rise and Shine. Yet this war, far from representing their doom, is how they survive. For their leaders have found the key to life when water and food are scarce - citizens can be sustained on their reactions to war and human suffering. The question is, with memories still bright of all the friends they’ve lost, all the experience they’ll never know, will compassion be enough? Or must they succumb to, or even embrace, darker desires?
Rise & Shine is a supremely odd near-future tale that speaks to our troubled times, a Kafkaesque fable of hope from the imagination of Miles Franklin nominee Patrick Allington.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Set in contemporary India, A Burning is the story of three characters whose lives are changed when they become caught up in the devastating aftermath of a terrorist attack. Jivan - a poor, young, Muslim girl, who dreams of going to college - faces a possible death sentence after being accused of collaborating with the terrorists. Lovely - an exuberant hijra who longs to be a Bollywood star - holds the alibi that can set Jivan free, but telling the truth will cost her everything she holds dear. PT Sir - an opportunistic gym teacher who once taught Jivan - becomes involved with Hindu nationalist politics.
Taut, propulsive and electrifying, this lauded debut novel confronts issues of class, fate, prejudice and corruption, and asks us to consider what it means to nurture big ambitions in a country hurtling towards political extremism.
The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
John Bolton has produced a precise rendering of his days in and around the Oval Office, as President Trump’s National Security Advisor in the years 2018-2019. The result is a White House memoir that is the most comprehensive and substantial account of the Trump Administration, and one of the few to date by a top-level official. What Bolton saw astonished him: a President for whom getting reelected was the only thing that mattered, even if it meant endangering or weakening the nation.
He shows a President addicted to chaos, who embraced our enemies and spurned our friends, and was deeply suspicious of his own government. In Bolton’s telling, all this helped put Trump on the bizarre road to impeachment. The turmoil, conflicts, and egos are all there, and Bolton’s story is full of wit and wry humor about the Washington inside game.
The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan
A photograph is hung on a gallery wall for the first time since it was taken two decades before. It shows a slaughter house in rural Ireland, a painting of the Virgin Mary on the wall, a meat hook suspended from the ceiling - and the lifeless body of a man hanging by his feet. The story of who he is and how he got there casts back into Irish folklore, of widows cursing the land and of the men who slaughter its cattle by hand. But modern Ireland is distrustful of ancient traditions, and few care about The Butchers, the eight men who roam the country, slaughtering the cows of those who still have faith in the old ways.
The Butchers is the first novel truly to capture the story of Ireland during the BSE crisis of the Nineties, shown through the small, deeply intimate stories of four people caught up in its churn.
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell)
They look harmless enough - you could even call them cute. A cuddly panda, a brightly-coloured dragon, a miniature crow. They’re part of the latest craze exploding from Croatia to Norway to Brazil- they are ‘Kentukis’. Not quite a phone, not quite a toy, not quite a robot, Kentukis contain cameras which allow someone on the other side of the planet to access the most intimate moments of another person’s life. And it doesn’t take long for these apparently innocent devices to fall prey to our dark obsession with technology.
Get ready to be fully creeped out with this chilling portrait of our compulsively interconnected society.
Ed note: This title is currently out of stock with our supplier, and we’re expecting more copies to arrive in August.