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Additions to Most Disturbing Books

Most Disturbing Books

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Apr 16, 2008, 1:27pm Top


Don't know if this is the way to do it, but I'd like to nominate The Charcoal Burners by Susan Musgrave and John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins as additions to your Most Disturbing Books catalogue. Both could be tagged "Cannibalism."

Interesting project, by the way!

Apr 16, 2008, 3:05pm Top

Duly noted, thanks!

Apr 16, 2008, 6:32pm Top

When I first saw this group, I was immediately reminded of a personal comment I had placed when I entered a book in my Library last July:
"The stories were fascinating, but years after reading this book I remain disturbed by the author turning these dogs loose at night to run across highways, etc. so she could study their behavior."
The book is The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

Apr 19, 2008, 8:26pm Top

I'm surprised the following haven't been mentioned:

Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burns - one of the best true crime books I've read, about Fred and Rose West.

Let's Go Play at the Adams' by Mendal Johnson - the most disturbing book I've read, stayed with me for weeks.

Apr 19, 2008, 8:51pm Top

>1 avisannschild: I'll second the vote for John Dollar. Marianne Wiggins is one of my favorite writers, but the ending of that book left me positively sick. Lord of the Flies for girls.

Apr 20, 2008, 12:18pm Top

#4 I agree with Let's Go Play At The Adams: I haven't read this since I sneaked my sister's copy during my teenage years and don't think I would again as I found it just horrific.

Also American Psycho - especially his completely sociopathic thoughts that we are privy to during everyday social situations - just horrible! (Something awful about heads on sticks has unfortunately stayed with me from this book)

Politically a really disturbing book that has stayed with me through the years is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn which I borrowed from my mother when I was 13. The description of a day in the life of Ivan in a Soviat Prison Camp is heartbreaking; and the knowledge that it's based on the author's first hand experience of being in such a camp for writing against Stalin makes it all the more disturbing. Maybe the age I read this exacerbted the impact for me - the realisation that outside of my little corner of English suburbia such horrors could exist was a lesson I'll never forget.

Edited: Apr 20, 2008, 12:29pm Top

Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner (both play and film), as its description of a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, with internment camps, murdered intellectuals, and collusion from "average" Americans was more matter-of-fact and upsetting than any horror novel.

Apr 24, 2008, 10:26am Top

Bibliobeck - you've agreed with me on one of my choices and I have to say that I agree with one of yours. American Psycho contains some vile images, it really does. I found it more disturbing for being very funny too.

Apr 30, 2008, 6:35pm Top

6-- I read the Ivan book at a very young age to. The feeling of terror and pain doesn't change though.

I'd like to nominate Clockwork Orange. I'll never get over that one!

May 5, 2008, 6:50pm Top


I certainly agree with you about A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksander Solzenitsyn. During the 70s I felt duty-bound to read the author's books, which plunged me into despair. Dreadful descriptions of the intense winter cold in those camps, with prisoners wrapping their feet in rags in an effort to prevent frost bite. Frightening, how readily underlings can be persuaded to carry out acts of evil. A current example would be Mugabe's willing thugs in Zimbabwe.

May 15, 2008, 8:33am Top

I recently read Burned Alive by Souad and found that really creepy. The details are pretty harrowing in places but what got to me was that much of it seemed to be from memories recovered during sessions with a psychiatrist. I know there is some controversy about this subject in general (and concerning the accuracy of this book in particular), plus discussion about the motives and politics of the charity involved, but this took nothing away from the strange, creepy, nightmarish quality of the childhood recollections.

There is no evidence that Souad even exists, as far as I know, and the "is it fact, is it fiction?" factor plays on the mind too.

May 15, 2008, 8:42am Top

#4 & #6 - I have a feeling that Let's go play at the Adams' is the book that really gave me the creeps as a young teen and still does now at the odd times I remember it.

Group of kids get left with a babysitter for a few weeks and keep her tied up and abuse her while their parents are gone?

May 15, 2008, 4:02pm Top

That's the one Jody. Funny we both feel the same and both read it as teens - maybe the plot is all the more disturbing and lingers longer for this? I read The Exorcist and The Shining at around the same time (yes I know, nice reading habits even then) and they have both stayed in my mind as very disturbing although I doubt they'd top anyone's most disturbing list.

May 16, 2008, 4:33pm Top

Hi Jody - I read Let's Go Play at the Adams' in my late 20s/early 30s and it made me feel quite ill. A friend gave me a box of books she'd picked up at a second hand shop, and the cover looked "pulpy" enough, so I thought it was going to be one of those so-bad-it's funny efforts (think Crabs by Guy N. Smith). I was completely unprepared for the reading experience.

It must have been eerie reading it as a teen, considering the ages of the children.

May 16, 2008, 4:42pm Top

#14 - Hi, yes it was really creepy to read it when I could relate to those children at least in age if not in behaviour.

If I picked it up for the first time now it would have been discarded very quickly. As a teenager it was the thing at school to read the worst horror and thriller books and compare to see who had the worst one so I kept going with it. Our teachers used to confiscate them if we were caught with anything inappropriate so that made them more valuable.

I just realised how that sounded. Peer pressure to read trashy books. I bet my old school wishes that was the biggest problem it had to face now.

May 16, 2008, 6:00pm Top

#15 - I was in high school before the really gruesome horror stuff hit (excepting H.P. Lovecraft). What circulated then were the "dirty books" --"Lady Chatterley's Lover," "Fanny Hill," "Peyton Place." No one read the whole book, just the pages with the turned-down corners. Boy! were we innocents! And we didn't have the nerve to read them in school. Our disgrace would have been abysmal had we been caught by a teacher.

May 17, 2008, 8:09am Top

#14 and #15 - Yep, we were exactly the same. Being a horror fan from the age of about 10, I always had to go one better. While friends of mine in secondary school were picking out the "shocking" bits in Judy Blume books, I was treating them to certain scenes in James Herbert books (any James Herbert fans out there? You'd know the ones I'm on about).

I don't remember any of my reading material being a problem in school, the teachers were pretty liberal and probably grateful we were reading anything.

Edited: May 30, 2008, 2:15pm Top

The Burn Journalsby Brent Runyon it was so painful to read that I just couldn't finish it.

Clockwork Orange was impossible to get through for me. it was just, so, well, disturbing *laughs*

Lolita was disturbing to me in the extreme, as well. Mainly after they started their physical relationship and she kept telling him how much her hurt her. gah!

Jun 3, 2008, 10:00pm Top

I'd like to recommend Song of Kali by Dan Simmons as an addition to the list. I'm halfway into it, and so far the descriptions of poverty, and of the sacred rituals, are vivid, unsettling and unforgettable. I think most people would be strongly affected by this book.

Jun 4, 2008, 9:39am Top

Added, thanks!

Jun 4, 2008, 10:49am Top

Andrew Davidson's upcoming book The Gargoyle. Overall it is an outstanding book. However, the first chapter or two vividly describes his horrific car accident and his resulting excruciating burns. It also describes, to a somewhat lesser extent, his terrible childhood and his subsequent career as a porn star.

Be that as it may, this is a book that people should read, as it is fantastic!

Oct 7, 2008, 5:46am Top

Monster Love by Carol Topolski. Brilliantly written, but the subject matter (murder of a child by her parents) is so disturbing I did wonder at points if I'd be able to keep reading.

Nov 17, 2008, 7:55pm Top

I want to throw Jerzy Kosinki's "A Painted Bird" into the hat. It chronicles a young boy lost in rural Germany during WWII. The atrocities are countless and gave me nightmares. At times I had to put the book down and just breath for a minute.

Nov 17, 2008, 8:44pm Top

Painted Bird's in the library! :)

Nov 17, 2008, 8:56pm Top

Hi, I just joined this site few days ago and saw this group. I wanted to recommend The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. This might not be along the lines you're looking for - it's not a horror novel or dystopian or a psychological thriller - but it's probably the most disturbing story I've ever read. When I read it, I thought to myself - "Yeah, that's probably what dying is like." Anyway, I highly recommend it.

Dec 4, 2008, 7:14pm Top

I'd like to add The Nightrunners by Joe R. Lansdale. It is excellently written (this is Joe Lansdale after all), but it was so extremely brutal, dark, emotionally manipulative and without hope that I actually had to quit reading it. There is a supernatural force in the book, but really that's just the whipped cream on top. I think it was the cruelty to animals that finally made me quit the book.

Dec 5, 2008, 12:57am Top

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

There is not hope in that book. And the one thing I champion is knowledge, learning and education. This book does its best to remind you that if it is out of proportion to your station or fate you will suffer more.

Also what happens to the children in that book, children shouldn't go through that. It always disturbs me.

Dec 6, 2008, 8:05am Top

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang depicts humanity at its worst - and it has photos (shudder).

Dec 17, 2008, 4:52pm Top

Ok, everything added!

Jan 15, 2009, 9:03pm Top

I'd like to add Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Very interesting and readable book about a girl who drives around picking up hitchhikers. Why she does so eventually reveals itself through her surprising tale. The book explores ideas of who we are as human beings via a strange and unsettling story. It's a story I don't think i'll forget soon as it is quite thought provoking.

Jan 17, 2009, 6:46am Top

>30 Phlox72::

That's one for the wishlist, thanks Phlox!

Jan 22, 2009, 9:36am Top

I recently read the short story collection The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca. It's very dark, with an awful lot of death and violent crime. The really disturbing thing for me was his nihilistic viewpoint: there didn't seem to be much point to anyone's struggles. You'll always end up dead.

Edited: Jan 31, 2009, 7:03am Top

I only just got round to reading that comment from OsideNative about The Hidden Life of Dogs (#3 - so I'm a bit slow). Believe me, ON, you weren't the only one! I thought exactly the same thing when I read it. Doing it in the first place was bad enough, but then writing a book about it giving the impression to less intelligent readers that it might be a clever thing to do is downright irresponsible. For that very reason, this book is high on my list of UN-recommends if anyone I know ever suggests they might buy it. It isn't even as if that behaviour could be justified by any intelligent conclusions about dogs - parts of the book are downright ludicrous. I remember one point where Thomas points out that, confronted with a crossroads, the dogs would walk a little way up one street so that they only had a single road to cross, rather than attempt the central point of four roads converging. I can't be bothered to go and find this bit of rubbish to quote it but her remarks were along the lines of 'How many humans would think of doing that?' Well Liz, where I come from, 100% of them - and 100% of the dogs too. Just how dumb are the people she knows?

Anyway, I do realise this isn't really the place for one of my doggy rants so apologies to all but I was very glad to see that stupid book nominated (even if it's not quite the reason I came on here looking for something really disturbing (but in a good way) to read).

ETA - Oh, oh! Under the Skin too. Faber is one of my all-time favourite authors and I can't resist giving all his books a plug whenever he's mentioned. Under the Skin is probably the most disturbing (the others don't really fall into that category) but they're all brilliant!

Feb 4, 2009, 5:35am Top

I've been trying to replace some of my old Ray Bradbury books and I'm reminded of a story first read to me when I was about 14 and which remains with me as one of the most terifying things I've ever read. Maybe it's because I wasn't particularly happy at school, and maybe - now I've replaced the book - I won't find it nearly as scary this time around but it's haunted me for years and it's The Playground, which can be found in Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. Tags, I guess, would be 'childhood' 'horror' 'regression'.

(And in case you're wondering why I was still having stories read to me at the age of 14, we had a wonderful English teacher called Mrs Bush, who used to let us come into the classroom during wet lunch breaks (officially that was strictly verboten), when she would read Ray Bradbury stories to us. She was the kind of teacher you would wish on your own children and those were among the more magical moments of my schooldays.)

Mar 28, 2009, 1:04pm Top


Dradis, I too thought The Death of Ivan Ilyich was excellent. It was a beautifully written novella about death and dying. Speaking of morbidity and mortality, Tolstoy's short story Master and Man is also an excellent story.

Apr 1, 2009, 5:23am Top

I would like to nominate Somebody's husband, Somebody's Son by Gordon Burn - the true history of the Yorkshire Ripper, our own local serial killer.

The bit about the waxworks turned my stomach

Edited: Jun 1, 2009, 7:47pm Top

Hiroshima by John Hersey - eyewitness accounts of the atomic bomb and the aftermath from 6 different people, with a follow-up years later. Awful, numbing, and a very real sense of the confusion that followed, with no-one knowing what had happened, where to go, what to do, or who was going to help them. This was a relatively small nuclear device on one city - anything bigger doesn't bear thinking about after reading this (not that I thought nuclear war would be good...)

The Last Victim by Jason Moss - young man tries to play serial killer at his own game and it's non-fiction... The author, as a youth, arranged a meeting with John Wayne Gacey which was truly frightening to read about.

>36 AuntieCatherine::
Have already nominated Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burn - was so impressed by the quality of the writing but it is dark indeed. Been wanting to read Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son for a while now, I really must get round to it.

Edited: Jun 2, 2009, 6:22am Top

#36/37 Also worth a read is Burn's novel Alma Cogan, based on the Myra Hindley/Ian Brady killings. Another pretty chilling book but just enough detached from the truth to make me able to stomach it.

Jun 2, 2009, 6:27am Top

>38 Booksloth::
I'll look out for that, thank you Booksloth.

Jul 5, 2009, 12:25pm Top

I was a tad disturbed by Oryx and Crake. Dystopian novels remind me of real-world issues, like those described in Hot, Flat and Crowded.

Aug 7, 2009, 5:10pm Top

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Aug 28, 2009, 3:42pm Top

I'd like to see Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi added to the list. It's a semi-autobiographical account of a man leaving his partner and two young children. The reason it disturbed me is that the main character has no redeeming features and comes across as a wholly vile human being - he is unfaithful and spiteful, treating his partner like dirt and lashing out at his young sons. He is motivated only by his own urges, is purely selfish in his actions, and has little if no empathy for anyone other than himself. It is a perfect example of the smaller evils that people inflict on each other day in, day out, and left me depressed and angry.

I'm not writing this as a woman seething at the actions of a crap bloke - I'd feel the same way if this was written by, and about, a woman too. If you feel like winding yourself up to the point of wanting to punch the main character, read this book!

Jan 5, 2010, 10:57pm Top

I found these posts to be very informative and highly interesting. What is disturbing to readers need not always be the obvious such as true crime or horror stories. For instance, several readers were upset by The Hidden Life of Dogs due to the obvious callousness and lack of common sense of the author. True and passionate emotions are,to me, the definition of what can cause a person to become affected by what they read. I remember Lolita as a book that had a deep emotional effect on me, due to what I believe to be Nabokov's talent. But while appreciating his talent as a writer, I was both shocked and dismayed at his portrayal of a pedophile and his relationship with his victim. However, more shocking still was the how the young Lolita used her appealing ways and Humbert Humbert's uncontrollable desire for her to bring about the undoing of two men. I read this book over ten years ago and it still has the ability to shock me when I remember Nabokov caused me to feel pity for the most loathsome of creatures, a pedophile.

Jan 6, 2010, 8:35pm Top

#43 ....I agree that disturbing can be almost anything. Though it is not a book, I just had to say here that I was personally disturbed by that film "March of the Penguins" that was so popular some years ago. I still cannot bring myself to deal with what some of the male penguins did to the baby penguins. It made me immediately stop watching the movie. I saw a similar thing on a Discovery channel nature program, where a male rhino basically attacked and killed a baby rhino because it was swimming too close to his territory or something. This after the mother rhino kept trying to protect the baby. Nature is cruel - and very disturbing. Sounds like I should stay far away from The Hidden Life of Dogs.

Sorry, just had to let that out. Ever since the penguins movie I've been wanting to acknowledge how much such things bother me. Vent over.

Jan 7, 2010, 11:40am Top

>43 mmignano11:, 44:
That's why I think the reasons people have for adding a book to our disturbing library should be put in the notes/comments, it's such a personal thing.

Phlox, I wasn't hugely taken with March of the Penguins so I can't remember that bit at all! I think it was the voice (Morgan Freeman?) - to me a nature documentary isn't the same without David Attenborough and I think I switched off :(

Feb 5, 2010, 6:55pm Top

Another member reminded me of Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh. It's about the cycle of sexual abuse. Like other early works by the author I thought it was very original and well done but unlike his others I couldn't read it again.

Feb 12, 2010, 8:29pm Top

I just read The Angry Clam. Such angst! Such pain! I hope I get over it soon.

Apr 6, 2010, 11:52pm Top

I would like to add The Butcher Boy by Patrick Mccabe. A darkly humourous first person account of a young man's descent into madness. It's hopeless and ultimately tragic, yet totally unforgettable. If you already have mental issues of any sort then I advise you read it with caution or skip it altogether.

Nov 7, 2010, 8:37am Top

Below Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, I read it, had a terrible nightmare and threw it away with the garbage.

Nov 7, 2010, 9:30am Top

Wrong title, (is this called repress?) the title is Less Than Zero

May 13, 2011, 7:42pm Top

#44 Phlox72
I've always had a problem with depictions of animal cruelty whether fictional or nonfictional. I've never gotten over a special I saw on PBS about greyhound racing. It's like that is my line in the sand, so to speak. I can read about just about anything else but not harm to animals. I've stayed away from Hidden Life of Dogs because I had heard about how author let her dogs out to potentially great harm so she could see how they behaved. People rave about Marley and Me and it is very likely funny and well written but I'll never know.

May 16, 2011, 5:28am Top

#51 I'm completely with you on the animal thing. I shudder whenever a dog appears in a horror story or any kind of crime or thriller because there's a 99% chance something horrible is about to happen to it. You are quite right to avoid The Hidden Life of Dogs for the reasons you give - the woman should never have been allowed to own animals and the book reveals nothing new or startling anyway. My mouth dropped open when she began the experiment of watching the dogs roam free - I just couldn't believe what I was reading.

Jun 28, 2011, 4:06am Top

THE HOUSE by Edward Lee..he is the sickest most perverse author I have read..and I LOVE it!!

Jun 30, 2011, 10:05pm Top

I have to agree with American Psycho. I remember thinking someone who could write some of those scenes needed serious therapy!

Jul 2, 2011, 7:41pm Top

saw it..read it...humanity at its worst

Aug 4, 2011, 10:41pm Top

And this one provdes nothing but chills and shudders:

Going Rogue

Jan 17, 2012, 2:01pm Top

I'd like to submit Rabid Child by Pete Risley: A kinky story populated with twisted, perverted characters. If your sensibilities are offended by perverse characters, don't read this; if you decide to read it, hang on to your sensibilities and enjoy the wicked ride.

Aug 16, 2015, 12:27pm Top

good call! Song of Kali is on my list as one of the most disturbing I've ever read. That ending!!

Group: Most Disturbing Books

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