There are books that simply scare you, and then there are books that actually get into your head. Maybe you call them thrillers; others deal with characters whose point of view might be distorted for whatever reason, and some just build you up for hundreds of pages only to reward you with an “Oh my God” moment that you won’t be able to get out of your head for days. Since this is the time of year that we tend to go for things that give us instant scary payoff, here are ten great books that go a bit deeper than just giving us chills.
House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
Told all in footnotes, the second story will test your mental stability. But it’s the main story, about a family that buys a new house only to realize it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and soon comes to find new places that lead to nowhere, is one of the ultimate mind fucks ever written.
“The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Want to know how incredibly scary society’s views on women’s mental health were in the 19th century? This book will do the trick.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
A book that could have been written in the time of the Brontë sisters, Du Maurier’s Gothic classic might now be best known for the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, but the mental anguish our heroine endures after her famous opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” would be enough to drive anybody mad.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
Is it a ghost story, or was James just giving us a window into one woman’s hallucinatory breakdown? Either way, this is a masterpiece.
“Diary of a Madman,” Nikolai Gogol
One of our favorite Russians tells the tale of this minor civil servant’s descent into madness in one of his greatest short stories.
The Street of Crocodiles, Bruno Schulz
We’ll never tell you to skip out on Kafka, but Schulz, who should be considered his Polish counterpart, was also something of a proto-David Lynch. This classic oscillates between visions that resemble waking dreams and those that are more like waking nightmares.
Moravagine, Blaise Cendrars
If you’re trying to convince someone to read this book, you might say it’s something like Naked Lunch with a pinch of American Psycho thrown in for good measure. Hey, that wouldn’t be totally off-base.
Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, Arthur Schnitzler
Schnitzler’s 1926 classic charts the thoughts and desires of a Viennese doctor, and is worth your time whether or not you liked Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, the notorious Eyes Wide Shut.
Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson
Obviously set in Texas (even though the location isn’t mentioned), this book adds a little more dark humor into the mix as Thompson tells the story of Sheriff Nick Corey’s mundane day-to-day life.
The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
If you had to pick one child to save while sacrificing the others, what would you do? That’s the mind-destroying decision Hoffman dramatizes in this novel.
The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold
A book that proves life can change in the blink of the eye, Sebold’s fast-paced novel will have you trying to catch your breath as you struggle to figure out what the hell just happened — not only to the main character, but to you.