From 'Bird Box' to 'Fever Dream': Eight terrifying modern novels to read this Halloween

Has the pandemic put paid to your fancy dress party plans? Get your scare on with these reads instead

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October, the month of eerie revelry, is upon us.

The pandemic and social distancing measures may have put a thorn in social plans for Halloween, but that doesn't mean the occasion has to be entirely spook-free.

Here are eight terrifying must-read novels, all of which have been written in the past 20 years, that will give you plenty of scares over the coming weeks.

So although you won’t see Poe or Shelley on this list, we promise you’ll find your next spine-chilling page turner here.

‘Bird Box’

The 2014 novel by Josh Malerman inspired the Netflix film that stars Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.

The story takes place five years after a strange unseen threat begins to drive people to a deadly kind of violence, attacking others before killing themselves. The novel follows the efforts of Malorie and her two children, referred to simply as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, as they try to find a safer place to live.

Malerman’s debut is a chilling reminder that the unseen threat can be a lot more terrifying than the seen.

‘House of Leaves’

Mark Z Danielewski’s debut 2000 novel has become something of a modern literary horror classic. It was even described by critic Steven Poole as a “satire of academic criticism".

With its unconventional page layout and structure, this novel is not your typical read. Some pages are packed with footnotes and footnotes-within-footnotes, whereas others only contain a few lines arranged in a way that reflect the events of the story. There are also references to fictional books, films and articles throughout, making it a work you need to concentrate on while reading.

While the novel's plot – which revolves around a family whose house has an impossible large and labyrinthine interior – can get positively spooky, House of Leaves has also been described as a love story.

‘A Sick Gray Laugh’

Written with provocative and unflinching prose, Nicole Cushing’s 2019 novel is an exploration of madness, depression, utopian cults, sports and literature.

A Sick Gray Laugh revolves around an award-winning author, Noelle Cashman, who has made a career by writing about her depression, anxiety and paranoid psychosis. But having had enough, she resorts to taking a pill twice daily, which seems to help.

Her symptoms go into remission until she notices the overwhelming grey that is taking over the neighbourhood, "threatening to assimilate all".

‘Broken Monsters’

Lauren Beukes’s 2015 novel begins with the discovery of a body. And while Detective Gabriella Versado is no stranger to gruesome crime scenes, she hasn’t seen anything quite like this before. Part boy, part deer, somehow fused together.

As Versado tries to unravel the truth behind this murder, Thomas Keen, a street hustler, stumbles on to the same malevolent force that the detective is pursuing.

‘Fever Dream’

Samanta Schweblin’s 2014 horror novel is a nightmare come to life. An absorbing, unsettling and memorable read, the Argentine writer's novel is as much a ghost story as it is a cautionary tale.

The story begins with a young woman named Amanda, who is dying in a rural hospital. A boy named David is sitting beside her. The story is told through dialogue but neither of the conversation’s participants are fully tethered to reality.

Schweblin drew inspiration for her novel from the use of harmful pesticides in farming towns throughout Argentina.

‘The Fever’

Author Megan Abbott was inspired to write The Fever by the 2012 mass hysteria case at Le Roy Junior-Senior High School in upstate New York, where multiple students began exhibiting symptoms similar to Tourette syndrome.

This 2014 novel instead revolves around a fever that is sweeping through a high school, causing seizures and hallucinations. Stranger yet, it seems to be only affecting the school’s female population. As the townsfolk, police and medical professionals search for answers, secrets about the girls, their families and the town begin to surface.

‘The Rust Maidens’

Gwendolyn Kiste’s 2018 dark fantasy novel follows a group of teenagers who have just graduated from high school. It is, in essence, a coming-of-age story but with a darker twist.

The novel’s protagonist is Phoebe Shaw, who returns to her home town in Cleveland for the first time since she was a teenager. The novel flits between the present and the past, when Phoebe witnesses her friends turn into Rust Maidens, a grotesque transformation that causes women to become living statues.

‘The Suicide Motor Club’

The 2016 horror novel by Christopher Buehlman is about a band of nomadic vampires who drive around the US in muscle cars in search of victims.

The novel revolves around Judith Lamb, who survives an attack by the vampires, but loses her husband and son. She joins a convent in hopes of finding peace but is then approached by a group of vampires who aim to rid the world of all vampires.