Chapter and curse: is the horror novel entering a golden age?

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Horror fiction, says writer Stephen Graham Jones, is booming close now. “It’s blooming, it’s blossoming. I mean, nighttime blooms, of course, with a bloody centre. Probably immoderate flies crawling implicit those petals.”

Jones, a Blackfeet Native American, should know: his terrifying communicative astir a tone retired for reveng, The Only Good Indians, swept the boards astatine past year’s fearfulness fabrication awards, taking some the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson awards for champion fearfulness novel. Opening arsenic Ricky is beaten to decease by achromatic drinkers astatine a bar, the caller moves backmost successful clip to amusement however helium and his friends slaughtered portion of an elk herd connected their preservation arsenic teenagers, including 1 large elk. Now they are dying, brutally, arsenic adults, portion asking if their past is catching up with them.

Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones Photograph: Titan Books

Jones has published implicit a twelve novels successful the US, but The Only Good Indians was his archetypal outing successful the UK; George Sandison, who acquired it for Titan, said that “one breakneck fever imagination of a work later, my caput astray successful the North American wilderness, thunderclouds rolling, elk enactment astatine my neck, I realised I had to bargain it”.

British-American writer Catriona Ward calls Jones: “a maestro stylist who takes risks with communicative boundaries, playing with the precise thought of what fearfulness is”. She adds: “I emotion that boldness. It’s what fearfulness is for: uncovering new, boundary-breaking ways to stock fearfulness and empathy.”

Ward had already published 2 literate fearfulness novels, Little Eve and Rawblood, erstwhile her latest work, The Last House connected Needless Street, came retired this year. A multi-layered dive into the bosom of a horrific concealed – implicit with talking feline – it received a rave reappraisal from maestro of the genre Stephen King, who said helium hadn’t “read thing this breathtaking since Gone Girl”.

“Horror is successful a precise breathtaking place,” says Neil McRobert, who hosts the Talking Scared podcast, which interviews immoderate of fearfulness fiction’s biggest names. He points to authors specified arsenic Jones, V Castro – whose Goddess of Filth sees 4 friends clasp a seance, lone for 1 of them to statesman chanting successful Nahuatl, the connection of their Aztec ancestors – and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, whose Mexican Gothic is simply a deliciously creepy twist connected gothic horror, acceptable successful 1950s Mexico (I adored it).

“[They] person each truly pushed the envelope erstwhile it comes to caller perspectives connected the tradition, particularly bringing successful alternate folklores and marrying them with occidental – achromatic – tropes,” says McRobert. “Slightly lesser-known writers similar Cassandra Khaw are besides making waves. Her caller novella Nothing But Blackened Teeth is simply a caller instrumentality connected J-horror, unmitigated by the accustomed occidental dilution. Meanwhile Zakiya Dalila Harris and James Han Mattson are penning truly sharp, social-commentary fearfulness that straight confronts the dangers of defaulting to achromatic culture, successful The Other Black Girl and Reprieve respectively.”

At Waterstones, purchaser Bea Carvalho besides recommends Mattson’s Reprieve, which features execution and a frightening haunted location flight room. “It’s an homage to classical fearfulness with existent societal commentary astatine its bosom – it truly pays tribute to the genre arsenic a whole, which I love,” says Carvalho. “It’s bang connected for anyone who loves Squid Game.” She besides recommends The Whistling by Rebecca Netley arsenic “a remote, Scottish-set shade communicative with existent Hill House vibes”, arsenic good arsenic The Haunting Season, which collects scary tales by authors including Andrew Michael Hurley, Imogen Hermes Gowar and Bridget Collins.

“Horror tin encompass thing from Saw to Shirley Jackson,” says Ward. “There’s this fantastic statement of the gothic – that it is not a genre astatine all, but a microorganism that attaches itself to genres and infects texts, and besides morphs done clip and adapts arsenic needed. I deliberation fearfulness possibly could beryllium seen arsenic the aforesaid thing.”

Paul Tremblay, whose A Head Full of Ghosts is 1 of the scariest novels I’ve ever work (think a riff connected Shirley Jackson with a perchance possessed teenager), says: “With truthful galore caller voices being published, there’s ne'er been a much breathtaking clip for fearfulness readers.” Tremblay tips 2 debut novels: Violet Kupersmith’s Build Your House Around My Body, an “epic genre bender” successful which 2 young Vietnamese women spell missing decades apart; and Gus Moreno’s This Thing Between Us, “an inventive and genuinely creepy publication astir grief” successful which a widower battles against the evil inhabiting his location astute speaker. Jones, meanwhile, is excited astir Hailey Piper – her Queen of Teeth opens arsenic a pistillate discovers teeth betwixt her thighs – and Shane Hawk, whose Anoka is simply a postulation of Indigenous fearfulness stories.

Jonathan Sims, writer of the twist connected the haunted location communicative Thirteen Storeys, and the dependable of fearfulness podcast The Magnus Archives, says that: “the dwindling of galore of the accepted pathways to publication” for the genre, specified arsenic abbreviated communicative magazines, implicit the past 20 years, means that “many of the astir exciting, upcoming voices successful fearfulness are not connected shelves, but online”, pointing to fabrication podcasts specified arsenic PseudoPod and Nightlight. Adam Nevill, whose caller The Ritual was adapted for film, has much precocious turned to autarkic publishing for his latest, Cunning Folk, successful which a antheral suspects that his hostile caller neighbours successful agrarian south-west England are commanding malicious powers. “Horror, to each of my eyes, continues to thrive successful astir mediums,” says Nevill. “And is escaped of the choky yoke of ‘what’s blistery close now’ connected leafage and screen. Indie publishing and the streamers person opened the gates to the grade that it’s intolerable to support up with caller releases, yet casual to debar pastiche.”

Nevill tips Egaeus Press’s postulation of tales of cursed dwellings, Crooked Houses, as, “the champion multi-author postulation I’ve work successful years”, adding that “everyone with an involvement successful the uncanny should work Nathan Ballingrud’s archetypal 2 collections”. These are: North American Lake Monsters, which won the Shirley Jackson award; and Wounds, which includes the novella The Visible Filth, adapted into the movie starring Armie Hammer successful 2019.

Ward believes that each bully penning contains horror. “There’s ever that small halfway of fearfulness astatine the bosom of quality existence,” she says. “We’re not expected to beryllium acrophobic really, arsenic grownups. We’re not allowed.

“Only children are acrophobic of things successful the acheronian and things nether the furniture oregon person that benignant of inchoate fearfulness that doesn’t person immoderate peculiar form; it’s the shadows successful the backmost of the cave. Horror is simply a mode for america to beryllium capable to prosecute with that fearfulness arsenic adults. I don’t deliberation arsenic a genre it gets capable recognition for this, really – it is simply a benignant of healing thing; you locomotion done the acheronian to the different side.”

Five books to work this Halloween

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Ten years aft an elk hunt, Ricky, Gabe, Lewis and Cassidy are being stalked by a vengeful spirit. Paul Tremblay calls this a “masterpiece”.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley
Elspeth takes a presumption arsenic a nanny connected a distant Scottish island, wherever her charge, Mary, hasn’t spoken since the decease of her duplicate William, and wherever thing is stalking the bare corridors.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Cat and her friends walk the nighttime successful an aged manor successful Japan successful hunt of the cleanable wedding venue, but it is built connected foundations of sacrifice and bone, and a shade bride is bare for them.

The Last House connected Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Ted lives with his girl Lauren and Cat Olivia astatine the extremity of an mean street, but 11 years ago, a small miss vanished connected a household travel to a water nearby, and Ted knows much astir it than he’s letting on.

Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Can Bryan, Jaidee, Victor and Jane marque it done each the flight rooms astatine “extreme haunt” venue Quigley House? They’ll triumph a large currency prize if they do, but determination are much dangers successful this location of horrors than they realise.