"And she proceeded to burn perfume..." [Gulnare of the sea].
Picture Collection, NYPL. Digital ID: 1704102.From ghost-hunting reality-TV shows to feature films like The Hereafter, the paranormal has gone mainstream. Book publishing, too, has jumped on the paranormal bandwagon.
Paranormal buffs can now chose from a plethora of series, thrillers, and detective stories, as well as stories about ghosts, zombies, vampires, witches, and faeries. And don't forget literary paranormal fiction. There are so many great stories out there!
Unlike high fantasy, which is set in alternate universes, paranormal fiction is grounded in our everyday world; the stories begin and (sometimes) end there.
Here are a few of my favorites, most literary, some old, some new:
Come Closer by Sara Gran
This subtly-written tale gently ramps up the terror, as it chronicles one woman's descent into madness. Or is she possessed? This is the most frightening book I have ever read.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
Claire DeWitt isn't your ordinary private investigator. Relying on, among other esoterica, the I Ching, dream interpretation, and bibliomancy (using Detection, an existentialist how-to, written by the elusive French detective Jacques Silette), DeWitt follows clues through an otherworldly, post-Katrina New Orleans. Gran's style is spare, clean, and beautiful. I hope this is the first book in a series of many...
Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine
Past-life regression, treachery, and violence! Published in 1986, this was Barbara Erskine's first novel — and the beginning of two and a half decades of great stories! Primarily set in Britain, all of her novels are wonderful blends of the historical and the paranormal.
Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce
In this bewitching and poignant tale set in rural 1960s England, Fern, a wise woman's apprentice, must learn to bridge the ever-widening gap between the traditional past and the accelerating present. Hedge magic meets the National Health Service, with mixed results.
The Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune
Born in Wales in 1890, Violet Firth, better known as Dion Fortune, significantly influenced Western Neo-pagan thought. She remains the most well-known British ceremonial magician of the 20th century, next to the infamous Aleister Crowley. This book, first published in 1938, is credited with seeding the modern Wiccan tradition. Alan Richardson calls it, "the finest novel on real magic ever written."
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
Self published by Anne Rice in 1976, this lush, terrifying, and overwrought work set the tone for the modern popular vampire novel. Many have imitated, but few have been able to so poetically evoke such sublime decadence. Although she went on to create a series called The Vampire Chronicles, this first book stands beside Richard Matheson's spare and elegant I Am Legend and Elizabeth Kotava's The Historian as one of the best examples of modern vampire literature.
Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson
Things are not always as they seem! Master-fantasist Richard Matheson explores the world of Faerie — and has a lot of fun doing it. By turns ominous and light-hearted, this story will take you on a very strange journey, indeed.
Her Feaful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Does a person's true essence survive outside the body? How interconnected are twins, really? Gorgeous writing, and wonderfully-realized characters are only a small part of why this novel is such a joy to read. Caution: twists and turns ahead!
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Take an English manor house and two World Wars, add democratization, a ghost, and stir... More than just a haunted house story, this is a tale of liminality and strange thresholds. It is a sublime example of Gothic fiction at its best.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
I'm always looking for books that, from the first sentence, draw me in and don't let me go. A tale of obsession, this is a maddening, inspiring, and painfully accurate portrayal of the Artist in the grip of his Muse.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Horror fiction master Dan Simmons tells the epic tale of HMS Terror and the doomed Franklin expedition of 1845. Breathtaking in its horror and bone-chillingly precise in forensic detail, this novel blends history and the supernatural to terrifying effect.
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
Ariel, an impoverished PhD candidate in bleak, post-modern England, is an unlikely heroine. When she finds the obscure object of her desire, a cursed book, she is able to enter the "Troposphere," the source of human consciousness. Thomas explains the nature of this plane with expositions in philosophy, physics, biblical theology, animal rights, and, of course, love. This is one wild ride.