7 Books to Read If You Love Sharp Objects
On the last page of the first chapter of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, protagonist Camille Preaker slips into bed in her mother’s Victorian mansion, where she recalls a blood-spattered hunting shed she’d stumbled on as a little girl. The walls, she explains, “were covered with photographs of naked women. Some of the girls were spreading themselves wide, others were being held down and penetrated.” Camille closes her eyes, reaches her hand between her legs, and masturbates to the memory of the shed. And that’s just the first chapter.
Gore and kink aren’t exactly unlikely totems of the thriller, but Flynn lends them a special unvarnished grotesquerie. She doesn’t transport readers to a more screwed-up version of reality — she stirs up the dredges of what we already know to be terrible about ourselves and our world. Flynn demands that you sympathize with villains even more than victims. Her novels are terrifying because they perch just on the edge of what we know our fellow humans to be capable of.
With the glut of Flynn derivatives out there, it’s easy to find a novel that a publisher claims is “like a cross between Gillian Flynn and … ” but few live up to the hype. Here are seven novels that serve up some of what Sharp Objects offers.
This novel about teenage cheerleaders will scare the pants off parents of girls. Not because the football players chase after them looking for action, but because the girls knock one another off pyramids, share naked photos of each other, drink themselves into weepy oblivion, and gag each other to encourage post-binge purging. Oh, and try to frame each other for murder. Abbott’s teenage girls are like Regina George on steroids: sharp-elbowed and willing to dig their knees into someone else’s eye sockets just to clamber a little higher to the top of the heap. Dare Me is possibly her best work, with its masterful play between the glitter-bedazzled pep girls out on the field and the malicious creatures underneath the hairspray and painted lips. They’re the pom-pommed versions of Amma and her crew.
There’s something cultish about collegiate friendships, forged in the fires of high pressure and close quarters. The classicists at remote Hampden College in Vermont are even cliquey-er than most, with their private classes and bacchanals and enactments of ancient rituals. But each member of the group harbors a secret, and when one of them ends up dead in a ravine in the woods outside campus, the newcomer in their midst has to figure out whether or not he’s willing to keep their confidence, even if it costs him his conscience. Tartt’s world-building skills are phenomenal — you’ll simultaneously wish you were one of the classics kids and thank God that you aren’t.
Eighteen-year-old Merricat Blackwood lives in an isolated house, tucked away from the village, with her reclusive older sister Constance and their feeble Uncle Julian. Six years earlier, Merricat and Constance’s parents and younger brother, and Uncle Julian’s wife, were all poisoned at dinner. Someone sprinkled arsenic in the sugar bowl the family used to sweeten their after-dinner raspberries. The three remaining Blackwoods are a bit too happy for a family living under the weight of such a tragedy, until a cousin intervenes and Merricat’s hackles go up.
Jackson is most widely known for that great high-school-anthology short story “The Lottery,” and We Have Always Lived in the Castle tiptoes deliciously in its shocking wake, leaving us to worry about what small-town pressure can do to the minds of the young. Wind Gap rings with echoes of the gossipy, self-righteous townspeople who bedevil — and are bedeviled by — the Blackwoods.
I don’t wait for new Tana French novels to come out in paperback (in fact, I usually email the publicists, desperate for an advance copy). Yes, they’re detective stories with fairly standard narrative arcs — a body turns up, detectives arrive on the scene, things gets out of control, and the murderer is revealed with a shocking twist. But starting with In the Woods, her first novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series, French gives her detectives life. They aren’t character detectives, burdened by their swagger. They’re people, and the hellish crimes they investigate yank on tender threads in their psyches. As a child, Detective Rob Ryan was the only one of three missing friends who turned up alive in a plot of woods near his suburban home. Now, he’s investigating the murder of a young girl who was found in those same woods. Memories of his childhood friends haunt Rob, just as Marian’s spirit flashes in Camille’s peripheral vision.
No matter how many critics recommend this book, I still meet people who haven’t even heard of it, let alone read it. (Where have you guys been?) So before you pick up Moshfegh’s stellar new novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, read Eileen for all its filth and dilapidation and booze-soaked envy. A fall-down drunk of Camille’s ilk, Eileen Dunlop works in a boy’s prison by day and fantasizes by night, especially about sex, although she claims the excitement makes her sick. “I’d always believed that my first time would be by force,” Eileen explains. “Of course I hoped to be raped by only the most soulful, gentle, handsome of men, somebody who was secretly in love with me.” When a vivacious new colleague named Rebecca arrives at the prison, Eileen mistakes envy for devotion and ends up wrapped up in something uglier than her own repugnant mind.
First, Frannie catches sight of a woman giving a blow job in a bar bathroom. Then, that woman turns up dead. Next, Francine’s dear friend Pauline ends up dead and dismembered, just like the first victim. Along the way to figuring out just what the hell is going on, Francine starts screwing the detective assigned to the case. She’s the prototypical young New York fuck-up, a writer who isn’t working her way through life so much as stumbling about in it. An admirer of words, Francine collects them, deploying them as a shield to protect her from her own feelings. And her collection includes, of course, “the cut” itself, a slang term that happens to mean vagina and a place to hide. To that end, In the Cut positively heaves with sex — it’s possibly the horniest book I’ve ever read, including Portnoy’s Complaint. Moore once told an interviewer that the combination of women and sex is “the only thing that interests” her. And this book positively spills over with it.
Imagine if we heard the captor’s point of view in Emma Donoghue’s Room — all the practical, unsettling details about how he soundproofed and outfitted the shed — and you’ll have some sense of the feel of The Collector. When Fowles’s novel was published in 1963, it created a massive stir for its meticulous creation of a delusional mind. (At least three real-life killers have since cited it as inspiration for their crimes.) Tired of collecting only butterflies, Frederick Clegg turns the cellar of his remote house into a bedroom and kidnaps Miranda Grey, a student he’s been watching for some time, in the hopes that she will one day love him.
Miranda, meanwhile, keeps a diary of her time imprisoned, and we follow along as the desperation ratchets up for both characters. This is the OG modern thriller, and its depiction of girls as collector’s items bears a strong resemblance to the dead young girls of Wind Gap who were gathered under Adora’s wings and primed to be her little dolls.
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The books collector like
Reading The Magus is a powerful experience for many of us, and one that can be repeated several times over a period of years (it’s fun to discover exciting new aspects of the novel during subsequent readings). Another way to further the connection one may have to Fowles’ masterpiece is to seek out other novels that have a similar “flavor.”
To that end, readers are invited to e-mail the title and author of one or two novels they believe fall into this category, along with a brief description of why. Contact us at Magusbooks -at- hotmail -dot- com if you’d like to participate, and please include your name, city and country. I’ll start it off with three novels that I think fit the bill.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992). Tartt’s best-selling debut novel features a young Nicholas-like protagonist (confused, aimless) caught up in a mystery with a sinister group of Greek scholars at a New England university. Like Fowles, Tartt is excellent at weaving classical themes and metaphors into an exciting plot.
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien (1994). A deeply disturbing mystery about the disappearance of a failed politician’s wife. The tone of the story, O’Brien’s excellent writing and the ending are all reminiscent of The Magus.
The Lost Domain (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Alain-Fournier (1913). This novel–the only one ever written by the author, who died on a French battlefield in 1914–reminds one of The Magus for good reason. Fowles himself has stated that he wrote The Magus “very much under the influence” of The Lost Domain. This was Fowles’ favorite book growing up, and the parallels between the two books are obvious. The 1986 edition includes an afterword by Fowles.
Submitted by Rick Thompson of Sydney, Australia:
The Chymical Wedding by Lindsey Clarke (1989). Quite like The Magus in tone, spirituality and strange things happening. Quite different as a book, but leaves a similar taste.
Submitted by Mark Dollar, a professor at King College in Bristol, Tennessee:
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966). Like The Magus, this involves a young, mostly well-adjusted protagonist (here, Oedipa Maas) who suddenly finds herself in an absurd new world. She goes on a quest to understand Pierce Inverarity, an enigmatic industrialist who seems to want to control her, and she constantly runs across occult symbols for an underground cell of revolutionaries. As in Fowles’ novel, the clues are usually dead ends and the reader ends up feeling just as bewildered as the protagonist. Both novels also contain several sly literary allusions to Greek myth and drama from the English renaissance.
Submitted by Gary Brooks of Berkshire, England:
The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley (1922). A novel by a real life magus, the story of which concerns a young couple who are captivated by the personality of the enigmatic King Lamus, who invites them to holiday at his Abbey. Filled with many abstractions of meaning, this book is very similar in both tone and content to The Magus, and could even have served as its template.
The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (1975). This underground science-fiction classic concerns itself with displaying the psychology of individuals drawn into various levels of conspiracy, and provides a very sharp detail concerning the “god-game” methods employed by some of the shadier characters. Has the same psychological themes of The Magus but explores them in a far greater depth.
Submitted by Richard Johnson of Staffordshire, England:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861). Fowles himself alludes to this in the introduction to the revised edition of The Magus. The self-delusion of the protagonist, the grand manipulation going on without his knowledge, the hard-won self-knowledge in the end (if you want to see it that way, and I’m romantic enough to want to.)
Submitted by David Blair of Sacramento, California:
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (1929). This novel explores eastern spirituality and western philosophy through the eyes of a an older protagonist, the steppenwolf, who after encountering a younger woman and her friend gains a new understanding of the physical and emotional aspects of life, only to enter into a game wherein the steppe’s views of reality are truly tested.
Submitted by Peter Linn of Brisbane, Australia:
Lempriere’s Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk (1991). Especially the scenes of the death of Charles Lempriere and the soiree at the de Vere’s. Also Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco (1989). Both books have an air of an unsuspecting protagonist dumped into a disconcerting other universe.
Submitted by Holly Hoffman of Cincinnati, Ohio:
Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh (1994). Like The Magus, this is set in another world–a fantasy island in Inquisition times. The protagonist is Palinor, an atheist who has washed up on the shores of a Catholic island. His inquisition and judgement by the island’s priest-king Severo involves a strange experiment.
Submitted by Vehbi Inan of Istanbul, Turkey:
The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (1994). The protagonist wanders all around Istanbul looking for his lost love through signs in the city and through the essays of an author he wants to replace. Istanbul becomes a labyrinth of messages and symbols, a cauldron of architecture and literature. The grey city as well as the mysterious author tell urban stories supplying the clues to find the missing woman.
Submitted by Brendan Doolan of Johannesburg, South Africa:
The Lovers by Morris West (1993). This novel has overtones of The Magus. Principessa Giulia Farnese di Mongrifone is engaged to be married to a wealthy, much older industrialist Declan Aloysius Molloy–a marriage of old and poor Italy to rich new America made not in heaven but on earth by heaven’s representative, Il Papa. “Giulia the Beautiful” meets West’s protagonist, a young Australian, Bryan Cavanagh, during a pre-nuptial Mediterranean cruise on her fiancé’s yacht. Cavanagh is serving as temporary second officer for a post-war, pre university “gap” year. She is indulged a last “fling” with Cavanagh before marrying Molloy. Some critic once wrote of West that he was the last of a dying breed, a writer of “articulate, intelligent best-sellers.” This is certainly one of them.
Submitted by Jeffrey Cox of Los Angeles, California:
The Beach by Alex Garland (1997). A similar set-up in which a disillusioned young man, Richard, travels to an exotic island to experience something “real.” Like Nicholas, Richard is unable to directly “experience” anything, but rather filters everything through logic and almost lives vicariously through his own mind.
Submitted by Terry Weissman of Chicago, Illinois:
Arcadia Falls by Rand Johnson (2001). Spiritually akin to The Magus (and other Fowles novels). A man frustrated by his life finds a cabin in a woodland threatened by development that is occupied by a beautiful but mysterious woman. Falling in love with her, he becomes obsessed with protecting her and her cabin and basically leaves his old life behind–but in the end it’s not at all clear what he’s left it for. Not only are the themes Fowlesian, but the author tips his hand about his own influences with references to both The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Submitted by Garry Brooks of Surrey, England:
Shuttlecock by Graham Swift (1981). This novel has strong parallels to The Magus: it’s written in the first person, narrated by a not-terribly-likeable male, revolves around the relationship between the tortured narrator (Prentice) and an older God-like figure (Quinn), and the ending leaves something to the imagination of the reader. The setting–an obscure department of the police in London–is very different from Phraxos, but in many ways provides a similar level of absurd and surreal experiences for Prentice as Phraxos does for Nicholas.
Submitted by Drew Dixon of Fort Pierce, Florida:
Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer (1970). Surprisingly, the book that reminds me most of The Magus is this work of non-fiction. The book is very much in a real sense similar to the God Game that Nicko got roped into. While ITR is documentary in nature, we see Speer as the person who is drawn into the game, the deadly game of fascism and its power structure in Nazi Germany, due to his own unbridled ambition which is eagerly fed and seduced by his version of Conchis…Adolph Hitler. Much akin to Nicko’s being drawn further into the God Game because of his own sexual greed. ITR winds through the eddies of rising from humble professor (i.e. teacher as was Nicko) to the peak of power and involvement in the game. Speer, while being drawn further into the game, isn’t always sure who is pulling the strings…Hitler (Conchis) or his subordinates (Nicko’s women). The parallels are there, but obviously Inside the Third Reich has the much more deadly–but none the less psychologically destructive and humbling–end result. Ambition and ego without tether leads to ruin. Now, go pick up the pieces.
Submitted by Adam of London, England:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1997). A youngish, disenfranchised protagonist sets off on a quest to find his missing wife. Via exotic travels he encounters two strange, sexual sisters and empathizes with an old soldier who witnessed massacres on the Chinese mainland during the war. Then there’s the precocious schoolgirl with whom he has a hotly unrealized flirtation. Hugely reminiscent of The Magus, with its ambiguous but suggestive ending. Fowles meets Raymond Carver. Magic realism all the way.
Submitted by Benjamin Joplin of Buffalo, New York:
Die Traumnovelle (English translation–The Rhapsody) by Arthur Schnitler (1928). A psychosexual thriller about a paranoid married couple who deal with the issue of fidelity, as do Nicholas and Alison. It became Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut.
Submitted by Mark Wieczorek of San Diego, California:
The Analyst by Jonathan Katzenbach (2002). This novel tells the tale of a psychotherapist haunted, and hunted, by an unknown former patient from the therapist’s distant past. The patient, now successful, plays the Rumpelstiltskin game with the therapist: the therapist must guess who Rumpelstiltskin is, or the therapist must commit suicide. If the therapist fails, his family will be killed. The mind games played by both sides on each other are quite worthy of The Magus.
Submitted by Torsten Ekelund of Sweden:
The Mind Game by Hector Macdonald (2000). A young man, Ben Ashurst, is voluntarily partaking in an experiment conducted by his charismatic Oxford teacher James Redfield about how human feelings are working. He is sent to Kenya with new girlfriend Cara, where he becomes trapped in a labyrinth and put in prison. Cara is not what he first thought, she is also a part of the experiment. The whole plot is very reminiscent of The Magus. Ben as Nicholas, James as Conchis and Cara as Alison and the other women. Not as good a read as The Magus, but well worth reading anyway.
Submitted by Nicholas Flavell of London, England:
A Deeper Shade of Blue by Paul Johnston (2002). A young protagonist named Alex Mavros, an Athenian private detective, is sent to an island in the Cyclades called Trigono to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. The story involves two major affairs with women and a local Greek millionaire. I find these factors combined with the deepening mystery young Alex finds himself involved in very similar to The Magus.
Submitted by Gore Frey of Johannesburg, South Africa:
Sophie’s World by Joestin Gaardner (1994). A naive–but still thoroughly enjoyable–book about Sophie, a schoolgirl, and a mysterious old man who piques her interest in philosophy. There is a great deal of mystery in the book and although it echoes The Magus, the echoes are very benign. Sophie represents, of course, Wisdom in its primeval state. The book is as delightful as The Magus is involving.
Submitted by Ryan Harding of Knoxville, Tennessee:
Shadowland by Peter Straub (1980). The story line has instantly recognizable similarities to The Magus, including a mysterious older man who relates tales of his experiences in war and life, as well as a duplicitous girl in re-enactments. The main character is an adolescent and the book explores the possibilities of magic in a more supernatural version of Fowles’ novel. Like The Magus, it is extravagantly layered, if less ambivalent.
Submitted by Sam Armour of London, England:
Captain Correlli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (1994). It evokes the flavor of the tiny Greek island; in particular, the episode in The Magus with the German soldiers is almost identical in mood to the de Bernieres novel. In addition, a television series which for me has strong overtones of the setting and situation of The Magus is the 1967 series The Prisoner. In it, Patrick McGoohan finds himself in a village and has no idea of exactly how he got there or why he is there. He is surrounded by strange figures and a series of scenes are ‘staged’ for him to gauge his reaction and find out more about his motivations. The sensation of having absolutely no idea how or why events are unfolding in this way, both for the protagonist and the audience (as well as the notoriously frustrating ending which gives little or no explanation) is virtually identical to the experience of reading The Magus for the first time.
Submitted by Tamsyn Taylor of Wollongong, Australia:
The Architect by John Scott (2001). Has a certain resonance of The Magus, dealing as it does with a young man, in this case highly successful, who seeks out a reclusive older man about whom there is an aura of almost mythical fame. His life is utterly transformed as the older man plays God. Another of Scott’s books, What I have Written, also reminds of The Magus in the way it juggles worlds both real and imaginary so that neither the reader nor the writer within the story are quite in touch with the truth.
Submitted by Kathy Kreese:
Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber (2003). Only like The Magus in being a totally original mysterious literary thriller and page turner, this an incredible mixture of anthropology, sorcery and murder from Mali to Miami. My top pick in the last five years and that includes a lot of books.
Submitted by Ian Cowan of Omaha, Nebraska:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. (1957). Most of the comparisons to similar books relate to the “Godgame” aspect. A novel that is complementary to The Magus in a different way, exploring fundamental questions–such as What is right? What is wrong? How shall a moral man act? What shall be the next step for society and mankind?– is Atlas Shrugged, and essentially the entire Rand bibliography. Although not identical in their conclusions, they both address the issue that what society generally considers moral behavior, isn’t–particularly for the best and ablest, the most self-aware–all wrapped up in a nifty mystery: Who is John Galt?
Submitted by David Jones of Manchester, UK
As Far As You Go by Lesley Glaister (2004). Set in Western Australia, and, like The Magus, combines glaring sunshine with a menacing atmosphere of sexual tension. There are two victim-subjects here: Cassie, who responds to a job advert for a housekeeper, and Graham, her boyfriend, whom she persuades into going with her. Their employer Larry is the Conchis-figure, and soon Cassie starts to suspect that they are being observed and manipulated…
Submitted by Mark Cowling of Barcelona, Spain
Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard (1996). A similar tale of masques and god games. The protagonist initially appears to be the only sensible voice in a surreal mock-paradise where adrenalin levels are kept high by a constant level of orchestrated petty (and sometimes not so petty) crime. In the end, however, he either allows or cannot stop himself from being sucked into the game.
Submitted by Christopher Bott of Machester, UK
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996). There is a passage (and a scene in the film adaptation) which mirrors, almost exactly, a scene from The Magus. Whilst on the hunt for his diabolical nemesis, our narrator speaks to a barman in a pub who lets slip a vital clue, revealing a shocking twist. Our narrator, suddenly enlightened, picks up the scent (dashing off, leaving the barman polishing his glasses of course). Passages in The Magus relating to the execution also remind me of similar scenes in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude (1967), another magical novel which, like The Magus, is far more than the sum of it’s parts. And the psycho-trial in The Magus especially reminded me of the part in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) when Charlie is told he has failed the test. Which is in itself another test. There are other similarities too, especially when it is revealed in The Magus that Conchis is of failing health and that his charades may cease for good. Nicholas seems to think not, could he be Charlie, selected at random to sit a perverse test by which he proves his worth to carry the torch? I do believe that the ending symbolizes Nicholas becoming The Magus and bringing an end to the masque.
Submitted by Rich Gration of Leeds, UK
Satan Wants Me by Robert Irwin (1999). A different setting (late 60s–sex, drugs and rock n roll) but a near identical protagonist, cocky and naïve, thrust into a world that scares and intrigues him, one that he cannot leave even though he thinks he’s in grave danger. Also The Liar (1991) by Stephen Fry. The denouement sets a different tone than in either “The Magus” or “Satan Wants Me,” but the premise is much the same. A protagonist who seems is young, knowledgeable, superior, bored, cocky…and looking for something more. Drawn into a game whichmore and more dangerous.
Submitted by David of Hong Kong
Night Jasmine Man By David Lambkin (2002). Weird things happen and they all seem to be part of some master plan.
Submitted by Rosa of Raleigh, North Carolina
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947). Some striking similarities to The Magus. A conventional British expat with a haunted past is caught up in an alternate reality: a maze of divided loyalties and strange and frightening customs, all while in the midst of the delirium and hallucinations of advanced alcoholism, and harboring a perpetual sense of loss and alienation. He wanders dazed through a maze of bizarre locations, and realizes that there are secret enemies–political, cultural–all around him. The symbolism and staging is the Day of the Dead, a fatalistic and fantastic orgiastic celebration of death. No one can save him. He is on a one-way journey. The ostensible landmarks are there: bored bureaucrat, exotic country, weird experiences. More important are the senses of dislocation, disorientation, fantasy and fatalism.
Submitted by Andrei Chubukov, Russian Federation
Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (2015). A contemporary fantasy take on The Magus. Almost as hard-hitting emotionally, if not as complex plot-wise.
Submitted by Tony McLaughlin of Fife, Scotland
Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks (2016). Structurally and thematically the closest novel to The Magus I’ve ever come across. Both involve an intelligent, disillusioned man rather lost in life and an older, enigmatic mentor/manipulator whose motivations are not always clear. Both have a major setting on a remote Mediterranean island (in this case off the South of France); both use WWII to reflect on issues of love, horror, humanity and reason; both have an enigmatic woman waiting in the wings; and both end with the narrator becoming wiser and humbler. Intriguingly, it can almost be seen as a thematic sequel to The Magus as the protagonist is in his 60s and the older man in his 90s. It’s almost as if Nicholas and Conchis are still playing their mind games with each other 40 years on. I’ve never heard Faulks mention his book as being directly influenced by The Magus but there is no doubt that it is, especially given that Faulks is a known admirer of the book.
Suggestions for adult books for Goosebumps/Fear Street lovers?
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1CurrLee33Edited: Feb 23, 2011, 12:28pm
I like Stephen King's stories better than his lengthy novels. His earlier stuff I enjoyed better than his recent books. Dean Koontz is somewhat comparable to Stein, however his novels seem to focus on detectives and not necessarily the spooky, supernatural stuff as R. L. Stein.
I am just curious what others would recommend to a person looking for adult-level R.L. Stein-ish books. Suggestions?
You might want to try Jonathan Aycliffe, for creepy ghosty stuff. (He also has a few books that are more demon-related.) I was going to suggest Alexandra Sokoloff, but I see you've already got her in your library. Actually, I see most of my suggestions in your "Books You Share" list.
Christopher Pike has a few books for adults, but I've never tried them.
It is somewhat difficult to articulate exactly what I mean. As an adult, I haven't found any adult-level author or series where the writing and/or plot is addictive like when I was a child/preteen. I'm sure one could argue some psychological/philosophical point that reading is *new* when you're younger (also things are scarier, etc.). Maybe I have read too much horror and seen too many scary movies to be really surprised any longer. =o( I just wish I could stumble across an author/series that gave me that same excitement as when I was younger and read the Goosebumps/Fear Street books.
I too had heard that Christoper Pike wrote some books for adults but I haven't tried them either (nor have I heard others who have).
I see you have on Thomas Ligotti book. How do you like his work?
I did read Superstitious. I don't think I finished it because it started to get silly. For whatever reason, i thought thta was his only adult novel but I will have to check out the others you mentioned.
I do love Lovecraft! His work is a little more classic than was I was looking for. I'll have to do some research on Aickman, though. I've not heard of him. And as For Liogotti, I have a short story collection of his in my "wish list" collection. I haven't been able to track the book down yet (it isn't in my local or regional library system).
I am an ILL librarian and it takes a lot of discipline not to run rampant requesting leisure books for myself. As I work at an academic medical library, fiction ILL requests are seldom seen and would draw a lot of attention! =o)
It might also be worth getting hold of one of the annual Best New Horror (or similar) anthologies to look for authors whose writing you like.
10pgmccEdited: Feb 25, 2011, 6:17am
At first reading I thought you meant you were sick, but then the penny dropped. :-)
Both Ligotti and Aickman are difficult enough to get. Short stories would be their main output, in fact, Aickman only wrote one novel to my knowledge and I don't think Ligotti wrote any.
Good luck with your hunting.
Having said that, I just started The House on the Borderland and something about the writing (there is a general sense of eerieness even though nothing outright scary has happened) reminds me of the old ghost stories I used to read as a kid.
13BookslothEdited: Feb 26, 2011, 6:37am
Also, I don't know which Stephen King books you have read but you might like to know that his early books are a million times better than his later ones; anything from around the time of The Dead Zone, Salem's Lot, Firestarter might well do it for you if later ones aren't really working.
Or you might find that your grown up self just prefers horror that doesn't have the supernatural element. In that case, you'd be doing yourself a big favour by trying something like The Collector by John Fowles.
Ed for typos
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Books like Flowers in the Attic have all the components of a best seller, they have obsession, fatal attraction, mystery, suspense, entrapment, death… They also have an element of horror, a dark incomprehensible edge to the narrative which stays with the reader long after they finish the book, in the case of V.C. Andrews’ gothic novel, the darker edge is the portrayal of child abuse and incest.
In Flowers in the Attic, the four Dollanganger children were happy until their father tragically died and they, along with their mother, had to move in with their grandparents. With their existence unknown to their grandfather and their arrival unwanted by their grandmother, the children are locked away in the attic while their mother sought to repair relationships, allegedly.
The days imprisoned in the attic turn into years until it becomes clear, the children need to leave their mother behind if they have any hope of survival. Luckily for fans of V.C Andrews, she has made a series of books about the Dollanganger children, but for those wanting more stomach-churning compulsive page-turning books like Flowers in the Attic, check out the creepy titles listed below.
8 Books like Flowers in the Attic
The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, by Joyce Carol Oates
Too afraid to indulge in another full-length creepy novel like Flowers in the Attic? Then this collection of shorter stories from one of the queens of horror Joyce Carol Oates may just be the ticket for you as The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror is perfect for those who like to be scared in smaller doses.
Comprising of six separate stories, Oates invites readers to explore the abominable, to witness the obscene and investigate the darkest of mysteries. In the titular story, a young boy becomes so obsessed with a doll belonging to his dead cousin that he begins collecting dolls of an altogether different kind.
In ‘Big Momma’ a young girl is drawn to the father of her best friend and their rather unusual house pet then there’s the student who unwittingly accepts to housesit for their favourite teacher only to find themselves fending off a violent intruder in ‘Gun Accident.’
As bold as they are unsettling, The Doll-Master and Other Talesof Terror is a digestible way to get your creep on!
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevinis another gripping story about motherhood gone awry. An epistolary narrative comprised of letters from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin discussing the actions of their son, the eponymous Kevin, in a startlingly frank and honest correspondence.
Kevin was always a difficult child, regarding everyone with contempt and hatred which ran deeper and grew stronger as he grew up, so much so that a few days before his sixteenth birthday, he goes on a killing spree at his high school murdering several fellow students and faculty.
These letters disclose some of the more disturbing details of Kevin’s childhood, Eva’s reluctance as a mother and their relationship now as Kevin approaches his eighteenth birthday and is soon to be transferred to a maximum-security prison. It is easy to blame the parents and Shriver’s novel expertly explores this notion along with the eternal debate on nature versus nurture.
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If you liked Flowers in the Attic for the darker familial aspects then We Need to Talk About Kevin will make a great next read for you.
Shutter Island,by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane said he wanted to create something which blended the work of the Brontë sisters with the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers when talking about his novel Shutter Island,which is rather an odd combination but one that totally works.
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule have been assigned a case on the illusive Shutter Island home to the Ashecliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane.
A violent hurricane batters the island as Daniels and Aule try to investigate the disappearance of murderess Rachel Solando, they start uncovering evidence of horrifying surgeries, extreme experimentation and soon realise that someone is aggressively working against them.
As the hurricane worsens and their investigation deepens, we slowly start to see that nothing and no-one is quite as they seem, including Teddy… Shutter Island is an eerie and psychologically charged novel that will keep you guessing until the bitter end, a novel sure to satisfy readers of creepy books like Flowers in the Attic.
Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books like Shutter Island!
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
The neurotic and hypochondriac mother Adora Crellin in Gillian Flynn’s award-winning novel Sharp Objects is reminiscent of some of the other unhealthy parenting appearing in books similar to Flowers in the Attic.
When Camille Preaker, a Chicago-based journalist, has to return to her home town of Wind Gap to report on the strange murder of a teenage girl and the disappearance of another, a lot of old wounds start to reopen (literal and figurative).
Camille’s younger sister Marian sadly died when she was a child and since then her relationship with her family has been strained, her return means she is reunited with her estranged mother and meets her spoilt half-sister Amma, becoming embroiled once again in the toxic household.
When the missing girl’s body is discovered in an alley in the same vain as the other investigations ramp up to find a serial killer, Camille soon realises she must unlock secrets to her past if she ever wants to solve the murders and leave Wind Gap behind for good.
A gripping narrative though unnerving and unpleasant at times, Sharp Objects is truly unputdownable and worthy of its great acclaim.
Have you already read this gripping novel? Check out our list of more books like Sharp Objects!
The Collector, by John Fowles
We return to unwanted captivity in the next novel on this list of books like Flowers in the Attic with John Fowles’ literary debut the psychologically thrilling The Collector.
Fredrick Clegg likes collecting butterflies and taking photographs he also likes Miranda, a middle class art student that he admires from afar. In fact, Frederick likes Miranda a lot.
Due to his lack of social skills, Frederick never formally approaches Miranda but believes that one day she will learn to love him, so he abducts her and holds her captive in the cellar of his rural Sussex farmhouse as part of his collection of beautiful things.
The narrative is divided between Frederick’s point of view as unhinged captor and Miranda’s as his unwilling prisoner, we see the many attempts she makes to escape as she tries to understand and reason with Frederick.
The Collector is an eye-opening look at the differing perspectives of victim and perpetrator, a truly haunting read.
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Though we have established that not all creepy stories need ghosts and the supernatural to be scary, in the case of our next book, it certainly gives it its fear factor.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is said to be one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th Century and has formed the basis of two films, a play and a recent Netflix series. It tells the story of four seekers of the paranormal who volunteer to be guests at Hill House, a house notorious for its spooky encounters and inexplicable phenomena thought to be responsible for the deaths of its former inhabitants.
All four guests have experienced poltergeists and similar oddities in the past and their stay at Hill House initially proves to be nothing out of the ordinary until, the house begins gathering power to choose one of the guests as its own.
Jackson’s literary talent keeps readers guessing as much as her characters as to what is real and what isn’t, The Haunting of Hill House is scary on a slightly different level but still creepy enough to haunt readers of books similar to Flowers in the Attic.
The Secret of Ventriloquism, by Jon Padgett
Exploring themes reminiscent of the aforementioned Shirley Jackson, The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett takes a ghastly and glorious delve into the mysteries of human suffering and the agony of existence.
An incredibly creative narrative formed of interlinking stories with a mysterious presence speaking through all the characters, there’s the story of a young boy, tortured and bullied at school who decides to enact revenge, the ventriloquist obsessed with mirrors, a dummy who reveals its anatomy in 20 simple steps among others.
Padgett himself has experience with ventriloquism and in his debut novel he expertly breaks down the boundaries between puppet and puppeteer with a philosophy questioning our free will and the power behind our actions.
It can be difficult to adequately scare the reader and not lose sight of the plot but Padgett escapes these pitfalls creating a creepy novel that fans of books like Flowers in the Attic will enjoy. Dummies and puppets have always scared me and reading The Secret to Ventriloquismhas certainly expelled any hopes of outgrowing this fear!
Misery, by Stephen King
We couldn’t really compile a list of creepy and scary books without including one by the master of horror himself, Stephen King. I have chosen Misery, a story of obsession, imprisonment and abuse veiled by protection – a great read for anyone looking for a novel similar to Flowers in the Attic.
This time the captor is a woman, Annie Wilkes, a former nurse and avid reader of author Paul Sheldon’s novels.
When Paul has a serious accident, who is on hand to tend to his broken body?
Annie of course!
Her refusal to take him to a hospital and the constant supply of painkillers causes alarm bells to ring as Paul quickly realises that Annie is unstable and holding him captive. Her plan, to force Paul to write her a new story, with such chilling motives, surely this isn’t the first time her obsessive and violent tendencies have been used on others?
King expertly explores the relationship between celebrities and their fans and draws on his own experience as a writer to create the incredibly unsettling Misery.
Are you a fan of Stephen King? Check out our list of more books like 11/22/63!
What haunts me most about books like Flowers in the Attic is the relatable vulnerabilities of the characters and the easy inevitabilities that drive them to their fates. The events in these books are what hook us in but they could actually all easily occur and that is why ghosts and the supernatural aren’t always needed to truly creep you out.
Are you searching for more books like Flowers in the Attic? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!
About Claire Hool
Claire is a writer for Books Like This One, a website helping you find more books to read! She loves reading classics, general fiction and non-fiction books.