There are many things I like about you. The way the leaves glint copper and bronze in the sun. How there are fewer bugs around. And the countdown to Halloween… to some extent. As fun as the anticipation and festivities are, I’m not so fond of the actually scary parts of Halloween. Anything that remotely looks like it might have a jump scare or a girl with hair dangling across her face and I’m done. (In this context, ‘done’ means my bags are packed and I’ve moved to the other side of the planet.)
So, as today is Friday the 13th, here are some slightly spooky (and some not at all spooky) books for my fellow scaredy cat readers.
1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This story is narrated by Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood, who lives with her sister Constance and their uncle. Years ago, the rest of their family was killed in an incident involving arsenic and now, the Blackwoods are something like outcasts in society. Apart from necessary trips to the village, they manage to live in their little bubble until one day, an arrival from a distant relative starts to unravel their peaceful existence.
At the start of this book, you will likely get the sense that something is not quite right. There’s a sense of unease and tension from the very beginning, which only grows until the horrifying climax.
Spooky rating: 4/5 non-spooky ghosts
This year, you bring the 30th birthday of a book very close to my heart. Roald Dahl’s Matilda is my favourite — I’ve written about it quite a few times (here’s a letter to the eponymous character and a post on why Roald Dahl is my favourite author). To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the novel’s publication, Puffin has released three special editions in which Quentin Blake imagines what Matilda would be doing as a 30-year-old. He sees her as an astrophysicist, a world traveller or chief executive at the British Library. He also thought up other possible scenarios (see this article by the BBC), and others have been joining him in imagining Matilda at 30 (see this article by The Guardian).
As such a fan of the book, my mind has also been churning with potential ideas since I heard about these special editions. So in today’s letter, let’s you and I imagine what little Matilda Wormwood could grow up to be.
My strongest belief is that Matilda would want to help other children the way Miss Honey helped her. Before Miss Honey, Matilda didn’t have a real companion who recognised her potential, wanted to help her flourish, and most importantly, loved her. I think Matilda would be likely to return to the classroom, perhaps inheriting some of Miss Honey’s learning techniques. Imagine learning about quantum physics through rhyme.
Some moments in life happen within a heartbeat. Others take their time, crawling at first within the edge and rooting into your life while you’re looking the other way. Losing the first of my best friends happened so gradually that I was surprised when the word ‘friends’ didn’t really fit with their names anymore. Why did it happen? Physical distance, to some extent. Something shifts when the rhythms of a friendship aren’t dictated by the regularity of school schedules and shared experiences within classroom walls.
Suddenly you don’t know detailed aspects of the other person’s life. The names and faces they embrace in familiarity are foreign to you. Doubt emerges. Where do you fit into their new life? Will your continued presence bother them? Will they read your words and care about what you say? And the childish speculation of whether new, immediate friendships take precedence over those steadily growing distant. After all, there’s only so much that can fit in the palm of the hand before the excess starts to slip away.