Now is a great time to dig into some spooky reads, from classic horror novels to modern thrillers, paranormal stories to twisted murder mysteries.
The Most Unsettling Books from Around the World
From ghosts, guts, and gore to the twisted side of the human psyche, these stories creep under your skin and linger in your mind long after you turn the last page, each for unique and distinct reasons.
We hope you enjoy this list of some of the best unsettling books from around the world!
A Touch of Jen is one of those unsettling books that plays with the convergence of humour and horror, crafting a disturbing and monstrous modern horror story with new age spiritual verbiage and social media stalking.
Morgan’s first novel follows the relationship between Remy and Alicia, a couple obsessed with one of Remy’s ex-coworkers, the magnetic and tantalizing Jen.
The cover and synopsis of A Touch of Jen feel unsuspecting; it plays with a heightened and intense sense of femininity, and how this shapes our view of the narrative. As readers, we do not expect a novel with a baby pink cover and a woman in a compromising pose to be borderline horror.
These expectations allow the unnerving feelings to creep in, as the sheer weirdness of the events our protagonists go through begin to overwhelm our suppositions about the narrative. Light and dark, funny and sinister, darling and grotesque, A Touch of Jen is sure to give you the creeps.
Like A Touch of Jen, Bunny is also one of those unsettling books that uses the feminine in an unexpected way, making it an integral part of the grotesque imagery of the novel.
Though often classified as outright horror fiction, Bunny‘s distinct, and almost infamous, brand of horror is less about fear and more about immersion into total weirdness.
Bunny follows a group of cultish Creative Writing MFA students who call each other “bunny.” Samantha, an outsider in the program, gets sucked in by this cloyingly sweet group of women who behave, speak, and dress how we might expect little girls to.
Behind the frilly dresses, glitter, and pet names lurks something more sinister, and we as readers get to discover this as Samantha does. Creepy, strange, and anxiety inducing, Bunny combines dark academia, heightened femininity, and cultish behaviour to create a truly unnerving reading experience.
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Reid’s second and lesser-known novel Foe is full of utterly strange occurrences, twists, and eerie vibes that make it one of the best examples of truly unsettling books. Following a very average couple living a quiet life with a rural backdrop, Foe subverts readers expectations again and again.
Junior and Hen are just as confused as readers when they get a strange visitor who upends their simple existence, and catapults the story into increasingly strange territory.
While the twists are wild and unexpected, the truly unnerving parts are the moments of quietness, the unresolved, drawn out, and unanswered questions. The lack of understanding Hen and Junior feel about their situation lends to the reader’s own uncertainty, making the inevitable twists and turns that much punchier and unnerving.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
In this intensely strange and brief novel, Kang presents a layered social commentary on everything from the degradation and abuse of women, to mental illness, to our treatment of the earth. It does so much so well, considering how it is one of the shorter unsettling books.
On the surface, the novel is told from three points of view, and follows Yeong-hye, a woman for whom a dream changes her whole worldview, from a distance.
The three narrators, her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law, present the changes in Yeong-hye through the lenses of their own biases, desires, and thoughts towards her.
Though it appears that Yeong-hye is the main character, we are never in her head, and our narrators get little to no information about her situation directly from her. This presents a unique and unsettling dynamic, in which the person which the story is about feels, more or less, like an object: an amalgamation of all that others project on her.
Whether those around her expect Yeong-hye to be quiet, self-abnegating, and altruistic, a receptacle for aesthetic and sexual desires, or view her as a child or a wounded animal, no one recognizes her as an autonomous, individual creature. Haunting, twisted, and unearthly, The Vegetarian‘s unsettling nature contains multitudes, from the characters to the moral questions and social consequences they represent.
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Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Boy Parts is a masterful example of meticulously crafted suspense and unease in a novel. Clark’s fast-paced, roller coasted of a story follows Irina, a photographer whose obsessive focus is on explicit pictures of “normal” looking men: non-model types who she can more easily use and manipulate.
In many ways, Irina subverts the expectation for a female protagonist; she is unlikable at best and downright villainous at her worst. This characterisation immediately establishes Boy Parts as one of the most unsettling books you’ll come across.
She embodies character traits that are seen as masculine and positive for men, like assertiveness, dominance, and even ruthlessness. Seeing all of these traits on a woman is off-putting; it makes the reader wary of her from page one.
Yet, as with any other narrator, readers can find moments of tenderness, and can understand how trauma has contributed to Irina’s outlook and morality. Boy Parts is an absolutely unnerving reading experience, and leaves you with a myriad of social issues to reevaluate.
Translated from the Japanese by Lucy North
The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a brief and strange novel which follows “the woman in the yellow cardigan” as she observes the strange and seemingly infamous “woman in the purple skirt.”
The plot is simple and linear, especially compared to many other unsettling books: the woman in the yellow cardigan follows the woman in the purple skirt, memorises her rhythms and routines, and observes her everyday interactions.
At first, the situation seems odd and a bit creepy, with our narrator talking little about her own life, thoughts and schedule in favor of the other woman’s. As the narrative progresses, so does the uneasiness the reader experiences; our narrator feels increasingly untrustworthy, and stranger by the page.
The unsettling nature of this novel is twofold. The detachment and distance of the narrator makes her feel unknowable, and coupled with her stalkerish obsession with the woman in the purple skirt, Imamura’s novel is sure to have you looking over your shoulder.
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Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Little Eyes, like many of Schweblin’s other unsettling books, combines elements of horror and speculative fiction with real-world backdrop to create a truly unnerving novel which hits very close to home.
It centers around the worldwide usage of “kentukis,” robotic animals with cameras for eyes, which live with a “keeper,” and contain a “dweller,” whose role is to control the kentuki and observe the keeper.
Schweblin comments on how the anonymity of the internet and social media creates opportunity for aggression and exploitation without the traditional “consequences” that in-person violence can lead to.
What makes Little Eyes so creepy is its realism; it is very easy to imagine a world in which household robots that closely watch you, and have access to all of your most personal and intimate moments. This speculative novel plays with ideas of privacy and consent with the rise of artificial intelligence in unique and truly unnerving ways.
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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The classic and well-loved novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, a pioneer in 20th-century gothic horror, is still just as unsettling today as it was in the 1960’s. In her most famous novel, Jackson plays with the supernatural and human reactions to these phenomena.
The novel follows the convergence of several characters from different walks of life, onto the famously “haunted” house on a hill, the goal being to study, categorize, and understand supernatural phenomena scientifically.
Though decidedly spooky and firmly set in the horror genre, The Haunting of Hill House contains multitudes. It is particularly notable for its rich character development and exploration throughout, and for the daringly sexually ambiguous relationship between its main female characters, in a time when queerness in most literature was erased.
The Haunting of Hill House is suspenseful, mysterious, and a slow burn that will leave you feeling unnerved.
Dead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy
What better way to follow up on the legacy of Shirley Jackson than with a fantastic short story collection in the vein of Jackson’s own brand of modern gothic and u settling books.
Dead Relatives is a collection of eerie tales from Welsh author Lucie McKnight Hardy. The titular, and longest, story — Dead Relatives — tells the tale of a young girl who has always lived in her big, almost empty, country house with her mother.
Iris may be haunted, or she may simply have an overactive imagination that fights back against her boredom and isolation. She speaks to the pictures of deceased ancestors on the walls of the stairs; she feeds the dead tree on the house grounds with meat and bones from leftover meals.
The question of whether or not Iris and her home encounter anything supernatural at all is what makes this one of the best unsettling books in recent years. Not to mention the many other, far shorter, stories in the Dead Relatives collection, almost all of which utilise creepy twists to deliver chilling and unexpected endings.
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Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Things We Lost in the Fire is a dark, macabre, and gothic collection of short stories that play with horrors big and small. These twelve stories follow a variety of narrators, with a focus on children and the impoverished. The supernatural is an integral part of most of the stories featured in Things We Lost in the Fire.
From ghosts and unnamed creatures to demented children and murderous adults, this collection plays with the line between the fantastical and the horrors of real life. Effortlessly blending the supernatural with Argentine traditions, folklore, and culture, each story Enríquez creates is unique, poignant, and utterly unnerving.
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