Feature: What Haunts Us This Halloween?

Halloween is a time for spooks and scares, and often the scariest things come from inexplicable sources. Spectres of the supernatural have haunted the human mind for generations; but in an era of technology and scientific rationality, can something as simple as a spirit from beyond the grave still give us the shivers?

Recently, The Guardian published this piece on the re-emergence of tales of ghostly hauntings, stating “the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang”. The article speculates that a key reasons the ghost story has grown in popularity is because the reading public have become more receptive to genre fiction. Is genre snobbery finally at an end? (Well, not quite, but we’re getting there).

Ghoulish figures never left our literature or media – the vampire obviously garnered a lot of attention post-Twilight, though the new sexy model lacked the creepy leer of Dracula. Zombies, too, enjoyed a spell in the spotlight – they were embraced in various media forms, in films like 28 Days Later, in graphic novel and tv series The Walking Dead and even ushered in (yet another) take on Pride and Prejudice. The intent of these ghouls isn’t always to frighten the reader or viewer, but our culture’s fascination with such creatures is clearly still strong. These fiends aren’t always there to scare!

However, the supernatural continues to unnerve. Despite the fact that we know more about the workings of the world, the universe and outer space than ever before, we can still be spooked by stories about ghosts. In fact, the more we discover about the universe, the more we realise how little we actually know. In this grey space is where the philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft reigns – we, as humans, are limited in what we can understand about the cosmos, and what is most scary is that we are aware of our limitations.

Everything from cosmic horror to the ghost story is frightening because at the heart of those stories is the unexplained. Worse still, something as seemingly simple as a ghostly spectre is not only inexplicable, but has the potential to be utterly incomprehensible. But let’s not get too upset by the fundamental shortcomings of the human mind – it’s Halloween, let’s just have some fun and scare ourselves silly!

So, our advice is curl up with a classic ghost story from M.R. James or get a thrill from David Mitchell’s new novel Slade House; generally just have a good time! And rest assured, we’ll still be grappling with all those unfathomable forces after Halloween’s over – there is still much to be uncovered in the dark and bewildering universe (or, is that multiverse?).

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Highlights | 19-25 Oct 15

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The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott (Tin House)

Out this month from Tin House is The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott. Tin House can always be relied upon to provide fantastic new fiction, and this title is sure to garner attention. Elliott tells the tale of down-on-his-luck Romie Futch who attempts to reclaim his life by enrolling as a test subject at the Centre for Cybernetic Neuroscience. There, he hope to become “new and improved” by downloading knowledge of the humanities subjects into his brain. Safe to say, things do not go as planned, and Romie ends up on the trail of a mutant beast known as “Hogzilla” – a thousand-pound boar possessing supernatural powers. Elliott’s book seems encompass everything we love – undeniably weird, with sprinkling of the speculative and Southern Gothic. We are eagerly anticipating out copy!

Find out more on Tin House’s website and read an interview with Elliott to find out more.

Read Publisher’s Weekly review of the book here and read an excerpt here

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 Vintage Classics Bronte Sisters Series
Granted, the Brontes are not contemporary authors, but the dynamic literary sisters are back in bookish news (not that they every really left!). In honour of the bicentenary of the Bronte, Penguin Vintage Editions are re-jacketing Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte). These fantastic new covers deserve a mention because they so perfectly portray the eerie and Gothic themes embodied in these texts, which often gets let out in mainstream discussions of the Brontes. The jackets were wonderfully designed by Sarah Gillespie, find her stuff here. And just in time for Halloween, too – the only problem is you feel the unrelenting urge to buy the whole set!

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The Masters Review – New Voices for the Classic Ghost Story

Gothic is most certainly the theme of the week – the finial item on this list comes from The Masters Review. October is the month of all things creepy, and The Masters Review is determined to let their spooky side shine! The state their aim for the month is to “to bring you as many different takes on the ghost story as possible”, and this week’s feature is the new short story “Clean Hunters” by Lana Valencia. If you’re interested in a bit of non-fiction this Halloween season, The Masters Review has also published some great essays on the uncanny (“Something’s Wrong in the Garden”) and the darker side of literature in their Literary Terms series (“Literary Terms: Gothic, Grotesque and The Uncanny“).