For one reason and another (mostly another) I’ve been reading and researching ‘horror’ fiction for the last year or so. In my travels I’ve encountered the absurd (James Herbert), the despicable (Dennis Wheatley), the noble-but-not-quite-frightening (Peter Straub) and one author who, in my view, got the closest to bringing a sense of dread into a fiction that I was actually willing to suspend my disbelief for, as well as writing as well, if not better, than most of the lit-fic I’ve read over the last few years.
But none of these have truly frightened me. In the past I’ve found disturbing prose in unexpected places – there’s a passage in a Louis de Bernieres book that still comes back on dark nights. But most of the supernatural horror fiction I read – good and bad – seems to lose the power to shock or frighten as soon as the spooks shiver into view.
Have we fundamentally shifted to an age where – in literature, at least – the supernatural/paranormal/weird has no power over us? Is the novel, with its demand for a neatly plotted tale, logical progression and character arcs, simply not capable of sustaining the ambient menace found in, say, the work of MR James, or am I just reading the wrong books?
Have you ever read a novel that left you too afraid to cross the room, jumping when the catflap flapped? If so, please let me know. I’m dying to be scared.