Stack of 9 books on a wooden shelf against a blue background, surrounded by gourds and a white candle.

From Lady Macbeth to Lizzie Borden, we’ve always been culturally fascinated by stories about vengeful, angry or murderous women. In the past, these figures have served as a cautionary tale against breaking from gendered expectations, but recent pop culture has reclaimed the trope of the ‘unhinged’ anti-heroine as a feminist icon. In a society that so often denies women their agency, the trope asks whether these characters are really unhinged at all, or just living out our darkest fantasies of empowerment and catharsis.

If you’re looking to read about female rage and bloodshed for Halloween, here are nine books to get you started.

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian (2021)

Chloe may look like an ordinary, latte-sipping first-year student, but underneath that mask, she’s a calculating killer-in-the-making on a psychology department’s secret clinical study. Now, she’s out to get revenge on the man who wronged her six years ago.

Never Saw Me Coming is a darkly funny campus thriller that blurs the lines between who is predator and who is prey. Vera Kurian set out to write this debut novel because she was ‘tired of books about dogs getting kicked’ – and Chloe is deliciously unafraid to kick back.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson (2020)

The ideal Halloween read, Sisters is a twisting Gothic horror novel by Booker-shortlisted author Daisy Johnson.

Following an unspecified shared trauma in their past, sisters July and September have moved across the country to an old family house, where their mother hopes they can start afresh. But in this new, isolated setting, the girls’ co-dependent bond begins to transform into something even more unsettling. Where will their changing relationship take them? And what is it that July refuses to remember?

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)

Ottessa Moshfegh is the queen of female characters who challenge our conceptions of femininity, with strong contenders in her books My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, but the eponymous protagonist of Eileen is our pick for Halloween.

Spending her days working as a secretary at a boys’ prison and her nights caring for an alcoholic father, Eileen takes refuge in an internal world of disturbing, passionate fantasies. But these fantasies get the chance to leave her head when a beautiful, charismatic new social worker arrives at the prison, offering an obsessive friendship that leads Eileen in a dangerous direction.

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (2021)

In this pin-sharp reimagining of a werewolf story, a stay-at-home mother finds herself transforming into a dog by night. As ‘Nightbitch’, she finds freedom to quite literally rage against the patriarchy – tearing up lawns and mauling small animals while she’s at it. But can she really be turning into a dog? Or is this all in her head? Maybe the strange book she finds in her local library, A Field Guide to Magical Women, holds the answers.

Picked by Stylist as the ‘cult breakout’ of the summer, this provocatively feral novel remains a great read as the autumn nights draw in.

The Girls by Emma Cline (2016)

It’s the summer of 1969, and fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is bored and desperate for someone to notice her. And then she meets the girls.

At their centre is the beautiful Suzanne, whose intoxicating coolness immediately pulls Evie into her orbit. Evie follows the girls back to a decaying ranch, where they live under the leadership of the predatory Russell Hadrick.

A gripping fictionalisation of life inside the Manson family, The Girls is ‘taut, beautiful and savage’, according to the Guardian.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (1998; translation by Stephen Snyder 2013)

From the author of The Memory Police, eleven macabre stories converge in this warped slice-of-life collection. If you’re just dipping into the tales, we recommend starting with ‘Old Mrs J’, whose husband is missing and whose garden produces strange carrots in the shape of human hands, or ‘Welcome to the Museum of Torture’, in which a hairdresser finds a museum trip very inspirational following an argument with her boyfriend.

Hilary Mantel writes that ‘Ogawa is original, elegant, [and] very disturbing’, making her a perfect choice for Halloween.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (2020)

In this novel that Max Porter describes as ‘A modern gothic triumph’, the Bass Rock watches over the lives of three women from its station off the coast of North Berwick in Scotland. In the early 1700s, Sarah is accused of witchcraft and on the run. Following the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community. Finally, in the present day, Viv catalogues Ruth’s belongings in the now-empty family home.

These women’s fates are linked across the centuries by place and by the shadow of trauma, in a blistering indictment of male violence that ‘Thrums with an anger it is impossible not to feel’, according to Daisy Johnson.

Laura by Vera Caspary (1944)

In the doorway of an elegant New York apartment, a young advertiser lies dead, her face mutilated by a single gunshot. But just who was Laura, and what happened to her? Detective Mark McPherson comes in to investigate the men who were closest to her, trying to piece together her life – until he realises that she isn’t really dead.

First published in the UK in 1944, Laura is classic noir meets Gone Girl; ‘A sleek, saturnine thriller’, according to the Independent. This is an ideal choice for fans of Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, or for anyone familiar with the Oscar-winning 1944 film adaptation by Otto Preminger.

Nightshade by Annalena McAfee (2020)

Eve Laing was once the muse of an infamous painter, but has sacrificed her own artistic career for her family. Now in her sixties, overshadowed by her architect husband and a globally successful college roommate, she is determined finally to pursue her art at any price. Throwing away her comfortable life, she embarks on a creative mission – not to mention an affair with a younger lover. But this pursuit of artistic success will lead to a fatal awakening…

A brilliant exploration of sexual politics, Nightshade asks if the true artist must relinquish love and connection to pave the way for desire and ambition.

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