JM Burgoyne’s Top 5 Haunting Books
JM Burgoyne’s debut novel Writer was published earlier this year. It features a possessed typewriter that can grant wishes – at a price. As it is Halloween, we invited JM Burgoyne to share her favourite books that also feature hauntings: real ghosts or metaphorical haunting by the past.
She says: ‘they are all books that are overshadowed or haunted by emotions like deep loss, pain, sadness. Just as Luke is in Writer. They are also incredibly well written.’
1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Told from the point of view of several different characters, Faulkner inhabits each voice so well that it is real. Not seems real. Is real. Faulkner is my favourite author for the sheer reason of this book (although he has other good ones). The first character is an adult with a learning difficulty – with the mind of a three year old. Then there are the others, including two other brothers. Benjy chases after the sound of his sister’s name – Caddy – and as for the others…well, Caddy is almost never spoken of, but is a visceral lack which is felt throughout the novel.
2. Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra.
Sleepers ends with this: “The night and the streets were ours and the future lay sparkling ahead. And we thought we would know each other forever.” In much the way that The Great Gatsby is haunted by the opening chapter – as in we know that something terrible has happened – Sleepers does the same, except in reverse. These two end lines were, as we, the reader know, so sadly, very much not true.
3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (and his short story, ‘Babylon Revisited’)
I tutor in English Literature and one of my favourite things to do is look at the final page of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald writes utterly beautifully, yet with the simplest language. It doesn’t seem forced or overblown, it seems natural – but if you analyse it you can actually see that it is woven together in a thousand ways. Beautiful writing and a story which, as I said above, tells of a man who is driven by hope and love and tries so hard to succeed…but he doesn’t, and we knew from the beginning that this would be the case.
4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Love, which we know or somehow sense is doomed. A scene involving a monkey…possibly chimp (I should remember this, but I am not a specifics person)…which makes me choke back tears when I remember it, and the theme throughout of the American opioid crisis which makes me very afraid and, again, sad.
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This is another of my favourite novels. I wouldn’t say it is haunted throughout, and it is not a book which is negative on every page, but the scene with the rabid dog: as always, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but that scene is one I replayed for years after reading this novel. It’s also one of my favoured books to give as a Christmas present: people should be given good literature. It’s the best gift!
Luke Kierley has visited the writer and asked it to exorcise from him all memory of her. Now he has no idea who she was and he must try to find a way to live with a bleeding hole in his memory.
Told in a unique voice that recalls southern gothic, classic horror, and frontier literature, Writer is like nothing you have read before. JM Burgoyne’s debut brings her virtuosic voice alive in a striking and unforgettable meditation on free-will, love, and the lengths we’ll go to avoid pain.
‘Not so much a novel as an incantation, an extended poem. At times it seems Joycean.’ Christopher Bigsby