First, a disclaimer. By saying you might not have heard of these novels, I'm not suggesting that they didn't do well. I'm listing them here because I think they're very special books that might not have attracted the attention that they deserve. Chances are if you're a horror fan you will have heard of some of these, and maybe you've even read them. But hopefully by listing them here, and talking about them a little, they might be brought to a wider audience. Regard this column as a bit of word of mouth...and pass it on!
Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. Any Metallica fan will know this novel (and the movie) as the inspiration for their classic song One. I read this in the same week as I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. That was a cheery week, for sure. It's a horror novel in the truest sense—I'm not sure I've ever been so uncomfortable reading a book—even though there's nothing supernatural. It's written from the point of view of a soldier of the Great War who has been horribly injured. He's lost his arms and legs, his sight, his voice, and he's paralysed from the neck down. He can't communicate. Everyone thinks he's essentially unconscious. And trapped in his own body, his mind still whole, he tries to make sense of what has happened and communicate with the outside judging time by the ebb and flow of sunlight on his skin through the hospital window.
Westlake Soul, by Rio Youers. There are superficial similarities between this novel and the Trumbo book, but Youers takes it in a completely different direction. His mind-trapped surfer protagonist develops a massive intellect and goes on psychic journeys of wonder (or does he?). The same claustrophobia presses in around you as you read this book, and the same sense of utter frustration and terror. But there's something else at work here that makes this novel quite remarkable. Read it and see for yourself.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. Perhaps better known for The Haunting of Hill House, and her short story The Lottery, this is my favourite of Jackson's novels. Among many horror writers it's considered a classic, so perhaps it's wrong of me to include it here. But it always deserves a wider audience. Richly layered, beautifully written, it's the story of a family denuded by murder, the survivors secluded on their huge family home and ostracised by the local village. It's heartbreaking and terrifying, and a work of art.
A Choir of Ill Children, by Tom Piccirill. Piccirilli is a fantastic writer, as comfortable writing thrillers as he is horror and westerns. This is an early novel of his, and one that made a huge impression on me with its grotesquerie and dark, darkest humour. It's a Southern Gothic wonder featuring witches, supernatural family lines, and a set of conjoined triplets sharing one brain. That image sticks in my mind years after reading it. If you can, pick up the Night Shade Books edition with the amazing Caniglia cover.
Meat, by Joseph D'Lacey. This is a nasty piece of work. Consider a future where famine threatens the world. Then think about how over-population contributes to that. Put the two problems together and...well, it's a horror novel, so you know what comes next. D'Lacey creates a gruesome world where industrial farming takes on a whole new meaning, and where the organic trend has ended. Combine with a new form of religious fundamentalism and the resultant stew is a delight to any fan of great horror.
Virus / The Missing (UK/US titles), by Sarah Langan. Langan has a lyrical way with words, and as a sequel to The Keeper this novel charts the downfall of a town beautifully and horrifically. Her characters are rich and flawed, her descriptive prose elegant, and there are some genuinely disturbing ideas and scenes. I wish we could see more from Langan.
Born in London in 1969, Tim Lebbon is the author of over 30 books published in the US and the UK. His latest novel, The Silence, comes out on April 17th, 2015, from Titan Books. You can order it now by clicking one of the links below.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Tim Lebbon for taking the time to write this piece. It's always great to see what the people who we are reading...are reading.
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