Books to read this autumn

Published

Credit: Aurora Stewart

Frances Pearson, Graham Peacock, Sabina Parrado, Sophie Kirkwood
Writers

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Sophie Kirkwood)

If you like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, you’ll love this spookily captivating tale of a mysterious carnival and its malevolent ringleader, Mr Dark.

It’s the week leading up to Halloween, and 13-year-old friends Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are intrigued by the arrival of a travelling carnival, which arrives accompanied by a sense of “something strange in the air.” As the boys explore further, they are drawn into a frightening, magical underworld where they must confront their greatest fears…

Thick with suspense, this is the perfect tale to get you in the mood for Halloween. Although it was first published in 1962, this story is timeless, and the writing is as rich and colourful as ever. Bradbury is a master at building tension, crafting vividly terrifying settings and dynamic characters who seem to leap off the page. Sure to linger with you long after you read the final words, this nightmarish tale is a dream read for anyone who loves fantasy, horror, and the weird and wonderful.

Autumn by Ali Smith (Sabina Parrado)

As the first instalment of the beautiful Seasonal Quartet series by Ali Smith, this novel, Autumn, has easily become my favourite of her works. The book follows the friendship between Elizabeth, born in 1984, and her elderly neighbour Daniel, who is 101. This relationship has a profound effect on Elizabeth’s life as he introduces her to a world of art. The novel is also filled with musings on art – especially by women – and how it is both important and prone to being lost and forgotten.

Smith is the master of structure and form, and plays around with each like a master conductor. The story time-travels back and forth between the past and the present, exploring the elusive nature of time, how slow it seems to pass for children, or for those awaiting something wonderful; and how quickly it passes the older we get. Autumn is a thought provoking read, full of colours and contrasts: it is at times poetic, at times sparse, and at times incredibly moving. So, if you are up for a different and playful novel, read this. I personally cannot wait to read more of Ali Smith’s books.

Pet Semetary by Stephen King (Frances Pearson)

As the nights get longer and the days shorter, our literary tastes may start to run darker, too, and as Halloween approaches we may find ourselves craving season-appropriate scares from our reading – and who better to deliver them than modern horror’s most iconic author, Stephen King. Almost any King novel would be autumn-appropriate, but those looking for a shorter, autumn-set work may want to steer clear of IT or The Shining, and turn to the slightly less well-known Pet Semetary.

King’s rich, idiosyncratic prose takes a relatively simple premise – a cursed burial ground outside a small Maine town that brings dead things back to life – and turns it into a rich, macabre tragedy about grief, childhood and the consequences of death which is often grotesque without being gratuitous. The near-universal experience of losing a childhood pet and that first experience of the finality of death is pushed to horrific limits as protagonist Louis Creed attempts to relieve his daughter Eileen’s pain at the death of her cat, Church. He does so by burying the animal in the abandoned Native American burial ground behind his house and, like in all good tragedies, this sets off a chain of events which ends with one of the most chilling epilogues in literary history.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Graham Peacock)

There’s a reason why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has endured for so long in popular culture. Beyond the image of a green-skinned brute, immortalised by countless film adaptations and children’s Halloween costumes, lies the novel’s captivating exploration of what it really means to be human.

It’s almost impossible to exist in the world without somehow gathering a rough understanding of the novel’s plot: Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist to whom every other mad scientist in literature is indebted to, somehow brings to life a body haphazardly constructed from animal and human corpses. Unsurprisingly this leads to some serious problems. Frankenstein’s creature is abandoned, and left to survive as an outcast in an unforgiving world which scorns him. Though this novel might seem tame in comparison to modern horror novels, the real nightmare in Shelley’s text exists in the anxiety Victor faces as he awaits his creation’s brutal revenge, and in the way it makes us question who the real monster is: the innocent creature denied of love, or the merciless society that rejects him.

Celebrating its 201st anniversary this year, Frankenstein is the perfect autumn read for those looking for a gothic classic to get lost in over the Halloween season.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (Sophie Kirkwood)

A spellbindingly atmospheric slice of historical fiction, The Familiars is the perfect page turner for October nights curled up by the fire. Set against the backdrop of the Pendle witch trials, the story follows Alice and Fleetwood, two very different women who become entangled in suspicion, accusation and secrets which could ultimately cost them everything.

The year is 1612. Fleetwood is 17, and has discovered the devastating news that she cannot carry children, after already suffering three miscarriages. Desperate to provide an heir for her husband’s wealthy family, Fleetwood turns to Alice Gray, a mysterious midwife who assures Fleetwood she can help. When Alice is accused of witchcraft, Fleetwood is determined to save her, and finds herself drawn into an oppressively cruel world where superstition against women rules all.

Gorgeously written, filled with tension and intrigue, the darkly compelling plot will sweep you back in time; and will keep you reading – and guessing – right up until the final pages.