Readers can find plenty of horror fiction on bookstore shelves here in America, but what about horror fiction around the world? What kinds of stories do, for example, Japanese horror/speculative fiction writers gravitate toward when trying to terrify their readers? What differentiates Austrian horror fiction and Mexican horror fiction? Are there any interesting worldwide trends in the genre over the past decade?
I don’t have the answers to all these questions, unfortunately, but I can start the discussion by highlighting some recent international horror novels that are available in English in the list below. And lest those of us less familiar with the genre think of horror in two-dimensional terms, we should consider the following statement from the Horror Writers Association: “Horror has once again become primarily about emotion. It is once again writing that delves deep inside and forces us to confront who we are, to examine what we are afraid of, and to wonder what lies ahead down the road of life.” So what terrifies us across languages and borders? Let’s find out.
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (NYRB, 2013)
This century-and-a-half-old tale of the plague and of cruelty, mystery, and terror has been likened to a parable about the evil that lurks within each individual and in society in general. Highly admired by none other than my own favorite writer, Thomas Mann, The Black Spider is one of those books that gently creeps up on you, weaving tentacles of dread and terror around you before you realize what’s happening.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier (Tor Books, 2016)
A town in the Hudson Valley is continually haunted by the ghost of a 17th-century witch; to keep the curse from spreading, the townspeople have quarantined themselves. Not only are people discouraged from entering or exiting the town, but also no one is permitted to broadcast the witch’s existence to the rest of the world. The area’s teenagers, however, are tired of living under lockdown and go viral with the story of the haunting, unleashing a series of horrifying events that threaten to destroy the town and its people.
Queen of K’n-Yan by Asamatsu Ken
Translated from the Japanese by Kathleen Taji (Kurodahan Press, 2008)
From the master of Japanese weird fiction and horror comes a story about an unnerving discovery in an underground tomb. When researchers realize that the mummified remains of a girl from Shang Dynasty China contain reptilian DNA, a Japanese lab is pulled in to investigate. Pretty soon, one of the researchers begins experiencing strange hallucinations, while the head of the investigation starts suspecting the existence of pre-human intelligences and massive underground caverns.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)
An international bestseller, Let the Right One In revolves around the strange happenings in a Swedish suburb in the 1980s. First, a teenager’s body is found emptied of all blood, and then a strange girl moves in to the area… and she only comes out at night. So if the phrase “vampires in Sweden” rings any of your bells, this book’s for you.
Black Tea and Other Tales by Samuel Marolla
Translated from the Italian by Andrew Tanzi (Acheron Books, 2014)
All three stories collected in Black Tea and Other Tales are unsettling and terrifying precisely because they mess with the reader’s own sense of reality. These stories draw on hallucinations, shadows, and coincidences (or arethey?) in such a way that we’re never quite sure where the threat is coming from. Murderous, shape-shifting old ladies; a special wine that helps predict peoples’ deaths; evil spirits that can be transferred to others like a virus: these are the building blocks of Marolla’s exquisitely-crafted stories of psychological horror.
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
Translated from the Japanese by Michael Volek and Mitsuko Volek (Vertical, 2007)
A woman thinks she’s marrying just one person, but soon finds out that she’s really attached herself to an entire household—one that is filled with secrets and becomes ever more threatening as time goes on. Now You’re One of Us has been likened to works like du Maurier’s Rebecca and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Goth by Otsuichi
Translated from the Japanese by Andrew Cunningham (Haikasoru, 2015)
Morino is already obsessed with murder, but when her town starts becoming a magnet for serial killers, it’s all she can do to keep up with her investigations. With a friend (the narrator of the stories) along to help her, Morino looks into each murder, using the cases to try to understand the mind of a serial killer.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead Books, 2017)
Like an actual fever dream, Schweblin’s story is surreal and unnerving. A work of eco-horror, this novel tells the story of a town poisoned by toxic agricultural chemicals—and the horrifying results made manifest in the town’s children. Reviewers have declared Fever Dream brilliant and gripping, a masterful first novel.
Rachel S. Cordasco earned a Ph.D in Literary Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010, and taught courses in American and British literature, and Composition. She has also worked at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. A Book Riot and SF Signal contributor, Rachel recently launched a site devoted to speculative fiction in translation. You can follow her @Rcordas and on facebook at Bookishly Witty and Speculative Fiction in Translation.