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Literary Theme: Existential Horror

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

A few books that portray the theme of horror. Existential horror relates to the meaning of human existence, our notions of reality, our relationship to objects and people, and the chaos that it reigns.

Existential books like Cioran and House of Leaves on a green blanket

It’s spooky but not in a stereotypical way. It truly makes your skin crawl. And it will leave you thinking about what you’ve read for days, weeks, and months after.

Ligotti cites many philosophers in his book including Cioran whose presence you’ll also find tucked between the pages of House of Leaves. The jarring nature of House of Leaves comes very close to the absurdities and grotesque-ness of Cioran’s philosophy. His way of solidifying reality is visceral, it pushes the confines of possessing a self in uncomfortable and jarring ways.

Just like House of Leaves where the house has these mysterious and dark and unknowable dimensions and hallways. Reading Cioran feels a lot like this.

The reason why you won’t stop reading House of Leaves is that it contains a complex layering of experiences. It’s a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. So it can read like a documentary which, in turn, reads like a hoax or a myth which, in turn, reads like a confession or a memoir or a diary of a madman.

Speaking of madness, another psychological and ominous story, which is also autobiographical is Dazai’s No Longer Human. It replicates the language and layering of human experiences, much like what House of Leaves does, but the subject matter is entirely different.

All books provoke a similar feeling of detachment and horror. You become hyper-aware of the distances between people and yourself, between the past and the present, and the tumultuous relationship between pleasure and indifference when pitted against the nothingness that pervades the universe.

All these books have a paranoia-inducing nature. Wuthering Heights also deals with such themes of supernatural horror, existentialism, and raw human coarseness. While this is a classic, gothic novel, its narrative is violent, weary, and distorted. The nature of the landscape and the portrait of its characters are deeply visceral, cold, and ironically intimate.

Picture collage of No Longer Human, House of Leaves, Wuthering Heights, and The Conspiracy Against Human Nature books


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