7 Feminist Horror Novels For Halloween 2018, Because The Traditional Victim Narrative Is So Limiting
The horror genre sees women suffering — a lot. The classic horror film has plenty of grizzly deaths, but the killer, usually male, is likely to make the girl, usually a blonde high schooler, his victim. And have you noticed that in so many horrors, the last survivor is almost always a woman? Sure, that might seem vaguely feminist, but if the last surviving girl is unfortunate enough to find herself in a horror franchise, then she'll have to repeat the traumatising experience over and over. Why not experience something else, with help from these 7 feminist horror novels.
What's great about these books is that they imagine the format spun on its head. What if horror was at men's expense? Or, better still, what if horror could be used as a vehicle to either say something important, or as a window into the nuances of life you don't usually get to see? Well, with all the catcalling and leering and politicians who don't care about our bodies, sometimes just being a woman can feel like a horror story. So, this halloween, instead of enduring horror movie marathons which play out the same old male fantasies, read one of these groundbreaking novels.
1. Taking A Chainsaw To The Patriarchy
'The Natural Way Of Things' by Charlotte Wood
Originally published in 2015, Charlotte Wood's masterpiece horror sees 10 women abducted and held hostage in the Australian outback — a terrifying setting, especially if you've seen Wolf Creek. Actually, it's fairly similar to the 2005 film. In similarly upsetting fashion, the women are taken in by sadistic men who beat them when they ask for any explanation as to where they are and why they're being kept there. Left to find out among themselves, the ladies get chatting and come to realise that they're all caught up in sex scandals. But instead of the traditional horror, this novel takes a chainsaw to the patriarchy rather than a helpless female victim. It exposes the deformities of sexism, when, as the women are abandoned, they're made to fend for themselves in the Australian wilderness. They're passive, dependent, worried about not having tampons. It's a heavy read, but in a way that's rare for horror, the men in this story aren't sympathised with at all, while the women really are the stars of the show.
2. Reimagined Fairytales
'The Bloody Chamber' by Angela Carter
Angela Carter's subversive, feminist take on a classic collection of fairytales is something that should be on everyone's reading bucket list. She uses traditional templates like Snow White to put women's issues and gender identity centre stage, as she draws from the erotic and the macabre to show women in control. Like, imagine Little Red Riding Hood if she was on top and actually into the wolf. Yep, in Angela Carter's world, Little Red Riding Hood is a furry. Don't say I didn't warn you.
3. Exit, Pursued By A Bear
'Dendera' by Yuya Sato
Old woman takes on grizzly bear in the ultra surreal Japanese horror story. On her 70th birthday, as is tradition, Kayu Saitoh is walked up a hill where she'll be left to die. Not this lady though, she's not the one. While practically on her deathbed, she's scooped up by a neighbouring villager and kept alive. She's taken to Dendera — a community of old women who had been left to die by their families. But not all's well and good in Dendera. Some seriously disturbing things go down, including an odd bear attack or two.
4. A World Without Women
'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley
What's so feminist about Frankenstein, you ask? Well, hear me out. Man creates monster, monster runs amok and destroys everything. It's sort of a nightmare imagining of a world without women, and I hate to break it to you, lads, but it looks pretty bleak. Shelley first came up with the idea when her and her pals, like Lord Byron, held a ghost story telling competition. Shelley's was best, of course, and her story which envisions a world without female birth and reproduction is a reminder to everyone about the importance of women.
5. Supernatural Horror
'Things We Lost in the Fire' by Mariana Enriquez
This super unsettling selection of short stories by Argentinian writer Enriquez takes a disturbing tour through her country's history. It doesn't hold back on the details of all those tortured and killed under Argentina's brutal military dictatorship, which sets the backdrop for these skin crawling stories. But Enriquez injects the supernatural into the very real, with one story which sees a little one going into a haunted house never to return, while another has a young boy is murdered during a satanic ritual. Yeah, it's not cheery stuff.
6. A Cult Classic
'Rosemary's Baby' by Ira Levin
Here's another classic. You might have seen the film, but if you haven't read the book that it's based on, now's the time to change that. Its original creator, Ira Levin, may well be one of feminist horror's pioneers. Rosemary's Baby is a musing on women's bodies and their own female autonomy. In short, Rosemary has no control over her baby. As she moves into a new apartment with her husband, her creepy neighbours enlist her unborn child into a satanic cult. It's classic, terrifying stuff.
7. Community & Strength
'Her Body And Other Parties' by Carmen Maria Machado
In a similar vein to Rosemary's Baby, Maria Machado's collection of stories sees a selection of women gradually losing their bodily autonomy, but while that sounds a bit too real and bit too depressing, the magic of these stories comes from their connection to one another. Even if all they're sharing pain, there's a sense of community and strength between the ladies, which ultimately trumps the horror.