8 horror novels with unreliable narrators

The scary parts of horror can come from many different places in a narrative. There’s the classic monster lurking in the woods or in the attic or under the surface of the water — think King’s classic Itor at Seanan McGuire’s Into the depth of drowningor Certain dark things written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. These are the ones with fangs and claws and appetites for murder.

Then there’s the environment-based horror. “Oh no, we were isolated in a remote cabin/wintering hotel/insert other remote location here.” Think of King Radiation or a movie Thing. Of course, there are other factors at play, but isolation is where a lot of tension and fear comes from. This is also where haunted houses come into play! Hill House, Hell House and House Next Door all fit the bill.

There is also body horror, paranormal horror, gothic horror, but also psychological horror: horror that plays with the identity or boundaries of the body or a change of perspective that reveals that we have been living a cruel lie all our lives.

And then there are my favorites, the unreliable narrators of horror who play on the trust of readers to send chills down their spines. An unreliable narrator’s book, be it knowingly or unknowingly, usually has a moment where it becomes clear that they have lied to the reader. That they are not really victims, or that the horror does not come from the outside at all. The world doesn’t work the way they say it does and, in the gap between their story and doubt, fear creeps in.

If you like this kind of mental puzzle scare, pick up these eight horror novels with unreliable narrators.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle 2006 cover

We’ve always lived in the Shirley Jackson mansion

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her sister Constance live in the family home with their uncle Julian. The rest of their family died after eating a poisoned dinner, turning the rest of the town against the girls on suspicion of murder. When cousin Charles shows up looking for the family estate, Merricata’s sanctuary in her big, beautiful house is threatened, and she’ll do anything to keep things the way they are.

Cover of My Annihilation by Fuminori Nakamura

My Destruction by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by J. Sam Bett

A man sits in an isolated mountain lodge where he finds a manuscript on the table and a white suitcase in the corner. The manuscript warns against reading, but he persists in exploring what identity means. What emerges is a revenge plot full of violence and layers of confusion.

Cover of Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project in Six Books to Help You Beware of the Ides of March |  BookRiot.com

His bloody project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Roderick Macrae was a 17-year-old Scotsman in 1869 who killed his neighbor and two others. Nearly 200 years later, a historian unearths a memoir in Macrae’s own hand. But when psychologists and legal experts investigate the reasons for his gruesome acts, his account of what happened may not be so reliable after all.

Book cover of The Last House on Needless Street by Catrione Ward

The last house on Catrione Ward’s unnecessary street

After Dee’s sister disappears as a little girl, she dedicates her life to finding out what happened. Her investigation leads her to Ted. Ted lives in a dilapidated house with his cat Olivia and daughter Lauren. He spends his days locked up, only going to see his psychiatrist or for a drink at a local bar. Dee and Ted’s lives collide when she moves next door to find evidence that he was involved in her sister’s disappearance all those years ago.

cover of Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

To portray the cocky manager at the local theater, Sawyer and his friends set up a puppet as a moviegoer in what they think is a hilarious prank. But the mannequin doesn’t seem to stay alive, and Sawyer is the only one strong enough to save his friends and their families.

Cover of The Devil Crept In by Anie Ahlborn

The devil snuck in, Ania Ahlborn

The town of Deer Valley has a grisly past with missing animals and a boy who was found dead. Stevie Clark, an outcast at school and under the watchful eye of an abusive stepfather, has only one bright spot: Jude. But then Jude disappears and as the days pass, Stevie becomes increasingly desperate to find him. But what he finds may not be the boy he once knew.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Book cover by Iain Reid

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid

Jake takes his girlfriend home to meet her parents for the first time, and the pair travel to the country farm where he grew up. But the girl is thinking about ending things. Philosophical debates, an impending snowstorm, and an unusual parental dynamic heighten the tension as the pair return, but stops for ice cream and Jake’s childhood school interrupt their journey home.

Cover of the book The Devil in Silver

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

After Pepper gets into trouble with three undercover cops, she finds herself in the psychiatric ward of New Hyde Hospital for a 72-hour hold. As he navigates his temporary home, he is visited at night by a creature. Convinced that it is the devil, Pepper rallies the other patients to end the monster that wants their lives.

Are you in the mood for more unreliable narrators? Check out this list of 50 must-read books with unreliable narrators or this discussion of what exactly makes a narrator reliable anyway.

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