Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
If you’re interested in the history of body snatching or want to know about how cadavers are being used as crash test dummies, this is the book for you. It covers everything you need to know about what happens to our bodies after death. This informative and hilarious book made a boring cruise on The Baltic Sea infinitely better. If you enjoy this book, read Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse by Katherine Ramsland.
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
A woman marries into a family with dark secrets and rather peculiar rituals. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. This novel has the same feel as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which is also on this list, and one of my all-time favourite books, Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. I maintain that this novel will haunt me forever.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Joanna Eberhart is a free spirited photographer and mother who is convinced by her husband to move to Stepford. The housewives of Stepford are strangely submissive and Joanna soon starts to realise that something is very, very wrong. This is as good as satirical thrillers get. I adore Ira Levin and I also highly recommend his thrillers Sliver, A Kiss Before Dying and of course, Rosemary’s Baby.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Through letters to her estranged husband, Eva tries to understand what drove her son to commit a school massacre. She wonders how much her ambivalence towards motherhood complicated Kevin’s development. The book also focuses on environmental effects on character and behaviour. I was blown away by this powerful portrayal of psychopathy in children, although Kevin of course doesn’t get an actual diagnosis of psychopathy in the book. As someone who once dated a psychopath and don’t use the term lightly, I found this book well researched, realistic and very emotional. Don’t bother with the film adaptation though.
The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard
An experimental collection of “condensed novels”. The fragmentation style the book is written in echoes the cut-up technique popularised by William S. Burroughs who Ballard greatly admired. Burroughs also inspired David Bowie who since the early 70s has used this technique to create some of his lyrics, as well as Genesis P-Orridge who was taught how to use it to alter reality by Burroughs. Ballard is an acquired taste and this book is certainly not for everyone. Ballard’s novel Crash is fantastic too. It’s an easier read so you might want to start there if you’re new to Ballard.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
This tragic novel follows the lives of three women over the course of 20 years as they rise to fame and subsequently fall into self destruction. Dolls is a euphemism for pills, as the women are clinging to pills for comfort like a child would to a doll. It also refers to the women in the novel being treated like toys by the patriarchal world. The film adaptation from 1967 starring Sharon Tate, is well worth a watch.
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The story of three Japanese women unfolds through a first-person confessional, diary entries, letters and documentation in perfect composition. It’s a psychological investigation that takes the reader into the darkest places of the human psyche. It deals with disturbing subjects such as prostitution, murder, cruelty, violence, hatred and jealousy. My obsession with the darker side of contemporary Japanese society compelled me to read this stunning work of noir fiction. I’m so glad I did because Natsuo Kirino has such a unique voice.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A naive young woman marries a wealthy widower that she meets while on holiday and swiftly moves into his Cornwall mansion Manderley. It soon becomes clear that the first wife, who died in a boating accident one year prior, is still very much in the picture. Read this classic novel, then watch Alfred Hitchcock’s beautiful adaptation of Rebecca from 1943. Daphne du Maurier was a fantastic writer who knew how to instantly create an atmosphere. Hitchcock’s The Birds is very loosely based on a short story by Maurier. Other notable stories include Don’t Look Now, The Apple Tree and Kiss Me Again, Stranger.
Piercing by Ryū Murakami
A raw intense psychosexual thriller. Murakami has a way of sucking you in with his voices of the deranged in Tokyo’s seedy nightlife. His graphic depictions of violence are always suitably shocking. He refuses to look away from emotional pain. This brutal commentary on Japanese society and study in the consequences of child abuse is very difficult to put down. Murakami’s In the Miso Soup reads like American Psycho set in Japan. Cute fact: Ryū Murakami once gave his friend Haruki Murakami a cat called Kirin.
How about you? What are some of your favourite books?