Book box: face your fears with these scary stories


Dear reader,

It’s 1:30 a.m. I’m jet lagged and I work late. Suddenly the lights go out. A blackout, you might say – but this is Brooklyn in New York. I’ve spent the past few days seeing as many skulls and skeletons as people – it’s Halloween horror time.

Halloween horrors.

Lights out are scary.

Rummaging through the darkness of my daughter’s apartment, anything unfamiliar, I make my way to the bedroom, crashing into a corner of the bed frame, when suddenly a single bedside lamp goes off. alight. The rest of the apartment remains dark.

Now it’s too much and I crawl into bed, pulse faster than I care to admit.

The next morning brings the explanation.

It’s an app called Hunches. When it doesn’t detect any human movement for a while, it turns off all the lights in the apartment. Any localized movement (a crash in my case!) turns on a light in this room! Phew!

But clearly, it’s time to listen to the supernatural sprites of the season and bring some horror novels.

Supernatural stories have always existed in our societies, told aloud over generations, or through books and movies – and for a reason. They give us chills and chills, they also help us face our deepest fears.

So here are 3 chilling reads for your reading pleasure – from Kerala, Mexico and the USA, each relying on a different literary convention – a magical realism supernatural short story, a classic gothic novel and a stream of historical fiction. awareness.

Book 1 of 3: Novella translated from Malayalam


Two things attracted me to Qabar. The first is the protagonist, a single mother judge, who must rule on a Babri Masjid-type land dispute. The second is the skillful use of the supernatural – a powerful way to explore religion, womanhood and the weight of the legacies we are born with. Spooky and introspective.

Book 2 of 3: A Gothic Novel from Mexico

mexican gothic.

Rebecca meets Dracula in this story of an old aristocratic family living in a haunted house in Mexico. The plot is propulsive with plenty of family drama and intrigue between the characters. Like Sarah Waters’ critically acclaimed novels, Mexican Gothic also contains all the ingredients of the Gothic novel, suspense and setting, but with its own modern twist. I don’t want to say more, for fear of giving away anything, but I can promise you this: you will leave this book with a lot to talk about.

Book 3 of 3: Hybrid Historical Fiction

Lincoln at Bardo.

The first time I started this book, I was disappointed. Random historical figures between life and death, talking about nothing at all – not for me. But so many readers loved Lincoln in the Bardo, I decided to give it another try. And this time around, the book had powerful poetic meaning in a wildly logical way – bubbling with whispers of the supernatural, in a way straight storytelling never could. And if you like this one, skip to another cult classic in its hardback edition – House of Leaves, meta-fiction that plays with form and format that’s seriously creepy.

Finally, meet Chandrima Das. This best-selling horror writer tells us why Indians should read more horror and gives us her best book recommendations. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:

Chandrima Das.

Tell us about the first horror story you heard.

I can’t remember the first ghost story I ever heard because it was probably told to me before I was 3 years old. My father’s ghost stories at that age weren’t necessarily scary. They could be quite funny.

I was born in Shillong and moved to Guwahati just before starting school.

As a culture still rooted in nature and the land, the Northeast has a tradition of magical and supernatural stories. One of my favorite is Khasi folklore on U’thlen, that huge, magical, man-eating serpent. Then there is the Assamese favorite baak, a water spirit. Some of the folklore entities can also be cute and adorable, such as mischievous, children puwali bhoot from Assam. Many traditional stories from the Northeast have been passed down orally for a very long time. Now writers like Janice Pariat and books like Les Nuits funèbres tap into that richness, not necessarily in horror, but perhaps in magical realism.

What were your favorite childhood reads?

Growing up, I read Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. By age 12, I had progressed to unabridged versions of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca (oh gothic romance!). I read a lot. However, I liked the horror stories the most (the paper always had plenty to offer). From this phase, Bram Stoker’s Dracula remained my favorite for a long time. Finally, I stumbled across my dad’s hidden stash of paperbacks and horror comics. My obsession turned to Stephen King and the cooler comics. Thus, my descent from literary classics to pulp fiction was complete.

India has a long tradition of horror stories – why is it a niche category these days?

India is the country of Dastangoi (Oral Tales in Urdu), Bura Katha (oral storytelling technique from Andhra Pradesh) and grandmother’s stories. But over time, the oral traditions began to fade. We abandoned the supernatural in our stories – perhaps we were ashamed of our superstitions, we wanted to get rid of the “snake charmer” image that the West had imposed on us.

Meanwhile, in the West, horror went through several phases of growth – they drew inspiration from fears, issues and themes relevant to their society and culture. A wider audience in the West has remained receptive to the genre, even beyond the die-hard horror fan.

I have personally experienced this difference. My original Audible Twisted series got a lot more downloads in the US than in India, even though it was made with the Indian market in mind.

What can readers gain from reading horror stories?

Done right, horror stories can offer us catharsis. Horror stories in particular speak to the darker aspects of our belief systems. They can help us discover and discuss the fears and issues we experience as a society. They allow us to explore the difficult emotion of fear in a safe space. These fears can be individual, interpersonal or socio-cultural. For example, the popularity of chudail and daayan tradition in India, probably reflects our inability to make sense of women who have free will.

What books would you recommend to start exploring the genre?

Ruskin Bond’s Ghost Stories are a safe and accessible starting point for Indian readers in English. After that, I would recommend readers find a horror book that straddles a genre they already love. For example, romance readers might try Rebecca or other gothic novels, those who love thrillers might try Stephen King’s Misery, people who love humor might enjoy Grady Hendrix books, and those who love the classics might find Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill. Strangely beautiful house. I also encourage Indian readers to try reading horror books in their native language. There are pillars of Indian horror in Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi, Assamese just waiting to be read.

New blood.

Tell us about your life as a writer?

I no longer have a day job. I am on paid unemployment. Of course, writing isn’t the only thing I do. I have an odd hobby for a writer, which is trading and investing. I guess my studies at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Calcutta did not completely leave me. I also did the voiceover for my new podcast, which took a lot of training and hard work. I write at my desk. I don’t write in cafes and other public places because they contain too much stimulus for me. My goal is to write, rewrite or edit every day, even if I have other things to do, even when the writing is exhausting and terrible. It’s a rare Sunday when I don’t write.

Tell us about your new podcast Rumors?

We explore subjects ranging from a ghost soldier guarding the Indochinese border to a ‘black magic’ village in Assam, an imprisoned tree in Kerala and even a witch hunt that is still going on. Our hope is to make you rethink your realities and question your beliefs. Doing this in an entertaining way, without being too preachy, was the hardest part of creating this podcast for me. Rumors was created in collaboration with storytelling company Bound.

What writing advice would you give to aspiring horror writers?

Horror writing gives you a chance to investigate the emotion of fear. Ask what scares people in our society. You will get great story and character ideas from these questions.

Get to know the tropes of the genre well, and use that knowledge to avoid that deadly enemy that all writers have to deal with – the cliché. A good scare requires a surprise. If you’re playing a model that’s been made to death, you won’t surprise anyone.

Subvert tropes tropes. Give us the unexpected.

Don’t pressure yourself to scare the reader off on every page. It is much more important to tell a good story. The overuse of fear and dread numbs the reader, so give them a break with humor, an action-packed scene, or even romance!

The last but most important tip, give yourself permission to write badly. It guarantees that you will write. The pursuit of perfection is a sure way to get stuck.

And finally, what book are you currently reading?

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.


With that, it’s done for now. Next week I’m bringing you books about writing – for all writers who want to participate in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

Until then, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week she brings you specially selected books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. Email him at with your reading recommendations and any reading related questions.

Opinions expressed are personal

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