The month of October has become synonymous with a distinct holiday — Halloween. Many of us would have noticed carving pumpkins, scary costumes and Halloween themed catalogues piling up at the grocery store.
Despite our modern-day commercialism, Halloween is rooted in superstition and holds significant historical meaning.
Halloween evolved from the pagan festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of harvest and the veil between the spiritual and physical world at its thinnest.
This Celtic holiday was later appropriated by the Catholic Church and eventually became known as All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day.
Though the name has changed over centuries, its meaning has stayed the same. Halloween represents the potential for spirits to walk among us.
In Australia, the Americanisation of television, food and pop-culture has led to an increased interest in Halloween celebrations. More and more Aussies celebrate the holiday with scary costumes, pumpkin carving, parties and trick-or-treating. Others identify more strongly with the season and celebrate it as a time to create macabre stories, music, performance and art.
Some of our most beloved authors have explored the dark and dismal to produce ground-breaking novels, whether they have drawn on historical events or relied completely on imagination to engage readers.
Scary stories have been shared for generations and are an important part of our oral and written history. Though it might not be for everyone, we could not let the season pass without sharing ten must-read novels for Halloween that explore the grim and gruesome, and the spooky or otherworldly.
10 Must-Read Novels For Halloween
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind [B1453]
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with an astounding sense of smell, yet he himself has no scent. He learns the art of the perfumer and creates a scent for himself that can fool people’s perceptions of his personality. One day, inspired to possess the scent of a young girl, he murders her, embarking on a journey to the dark side of humanity.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde [B0112]
Scandal erupted over Wilde’s novel when it was first published as it ‘violated the laws of public morality’; though perhaps less shocking now, this psychological thriller remains just as enticing over a hundred years later. It examines the cost of self-indulgence, and the havoc we wreak on our souls in the quest for satisfaction.
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi [B2340]
An entirely fresh approach to the classic murder puzzle: past and present day events combine the efforts of eight individuals in a linked series of investigative episodes, all leading the reader towards solving a central mystery. No one is what they seem; nor is the past dead and buried, but very much alive.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [B2177]
When a seemingly happy woman disappears without a trace, convincing evidence points to the involvement of her oddly unemotional husband. This well-crafted psychological thriller surprises with each turn of the investigation, unfolding disturbing information with every twist.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood [B1556]
A large, complex fiction combining murder mystery with social comment on class and sexual relationships, and based on historical fact: a notorious murder case in Canada. Atwood explores the ambiguities of 16-year-old Grace Marks, and also brings her usual wit and insight to psychology, morality and the management of Victorian homes and prisons. A must for Atwood lovers.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold [B1789]
Fourteen-year-old Susie is brutally murdered, and tells her story looking down from heaven. Haunting, compelling, and unsettling, this is an original and challenging novel about healing, recovery, and moving on towards a newly defined future.
Cape Grim by Carmel Bird [B1825]
Bird explores innocence and evil in a religious community on the coast of Tasmania. When cult leader Caleb sets fire to the group meeting house, all but three of the community perish. Blending traditional folk-tale elements with contemporary events, this explores our darker aspects and the reverberations of history.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo [B2154]
The first day of snow has fallen on Oslo, and police investigator Harry Hole is involved in solving a series of brutal murders. Hole finds himself trapped in the killer’s evil game, which will bring him to the verge of insanity. Content may disturb.
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje [B1629]
A forensic anthropologist returns to Sri Lanka, a land steeped in culture and tradition, to investigate organised campaigns of murder engulfing the island. Ondaatje blends the history, art, archaeology and folklore of his extravagantly beautiful birthplace, now ravaged by civil war. Telling of a culture’s attempt to submerge its history, the novel weaves an intricate chain of human connection.
The Fig Eater By Jody Fields [B1640]
Vienna in 1910. It seems at first that this will be a straightforward historical crime novel, but it mines the fertile tension between morality and passion that provided such rich material for Freud himself. Beneath the imperial city’s respectable facade are layers of deception, abuse and sexual perversion. Interweaving two parallel investigations of a young girl’s murder, Shields explores the nature of investigation itself. What is the role of logic, and what of intuition?