Book Club Nominees

6 Novels by Killer Queens

by @Ghazal, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for January’s “🔪 Killer Queens” category

Books by criminally underrated femme identifying people. From South Korea to America, this category is filled with some of the best authors to ever grace the horror genre. Horror literature is filled, and to some degree, dominated by the same similar names and faces. In this list, I’d like to introduce some names that, though well-known, still deserve more attention. 

Cover of Completed Plays: Blasted, Phaedra's Love, Crave (triple feature) by Sarah Kane. Cover shows a boy with a shaved head and either dirty or very dark under-eyes standing in front of a view down a street. The photo is in black and white and we only see him from mid nose up

Blasted, Phaedra’s Love, Crave (triple feature) by Sarah Kane

Set in an expensive hotel room in Leeds. Ian, a foul-mouthed middle-aged tabloid journalist, has brought a young woman, Cate, to the room for the night. Cate is much younger than Ian, emotionally fragile, and seemingly intellectually simple (Blasted, Wikipedia). Set in an unnamed city from which voices and images spring, Crave charts the disintegration of a human mind under the pressures of love, loss and desire (Crave, goodreads). Sarah Kane’s radical reworking of Seneca’s classical tragedy of incest and unrequited lust. Phaedra’s Love is a bold and provocative revisioning of the story of Phaedra’s obsessive and destructive love of her son Hippolytus and his violent punishment by Theseus. (Goodreads description of Phaedra’s Love)

Sarah Kane is one of the most important figures in contemporary theater, and as it turns out, the horror genre. Her plays have shocked audiences and critics, but those who were able to see the violence in her work as what it was, a means to the heart of her messages, managed to dig deeper, appreciate, and enjoy her work. These three plays are all fairly short, yet they are powerful and moving. My favorite playwright and one of my favorite authors, Sarah Kane’s work is not to be missed. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. Cover shows a series of black circles superimposed on an image of a horse. The horse's head is poking out from between the circles, like someone glued construction paper circles over the horse.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. The two seem anxious and, at David’s ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past. As David pushes her to recall whatever trauma has landed her in her terminal state, he unwittingly opens a chest of horrors, and suddenly the terrifying nature of their reality is brought into shocking focus. (Goodreads)

I found Samanta Schweblin’s work through the Booker International Prize a few years ago, and months back, when discussing Spanish language horror books, I was reminded of the fact that I never got around to reading it. When it came to picking one of her books for this list, Fever Dream’s premise caught my attention quickly. I think the author and blurb sell themselves (not to mention the gorgeous cover).

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez. Cover shows a black woman's face in profile against a sepia toned background. Her skin almost appears golden to match the background of the book -- the whole image is sepia or golden toned. There are blood drops at the edge of the image.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez

The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards (fiction and science fiction) The Gilda Stories is a very lesbian American odyssey. Escaping from slavery in the 1850s Gilda’s longing for kinship and community grows over two hundred years. Her induction into a family of benevolent vampyres takes her on an adventurous and dangerous journey full of loud laughter and subtle terror. (Goodreads)

Jewelle L. Gómez is a name I was shocked to come across for the first time when researching for this list. She is a writer and activist who’s been fighting for human rights, particularly those of LGBTQIA+ women of color, for decades. Her most famous work is The Gilda Stories and from all accounts, seems to be an incredibly interesting take on vampire literature, fused with important history.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye. Cover shows a black and white image of a floor of loose and damaged wooden boards. The floor is covered in debris -- dust, dirt, loose and broken pieces of brick, leaves. A concrete wall is in the background.

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye

There is something very wrong with Nadia and her husband Ange, middle-aged provincial school teachers who slowly realize that they are despised by everyone around them. One day a savage wound appears in Ange’s stomach, and as Nadia fights to save her husband’s life their hideous neighbor Noget—a man everyone insists is a famous author—inexplicably imposes his care upon them. While Noget fattens them with ever richer foods, Nadia embarks on a nightmarish visit to her ex-husband and estranged son—is she abandoning Ange or revisiting old grievances in an attempt to save him? (Goodreads)

Between this title, and The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, I decided to go with Marie NDiaye for this list. NDiaye has been writing since she was twelve and her first book was published when she was only eighteen years old. She has many books, My Heart Hemmed In being one of her horror titles. The premise of this title is incredibly intriguing, and I’m glad to have found it. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani. Cover shows a woman in a maid's uniform. The uniform is blue and white and we only see the woman's collar and buttons, and her neck. Everything else is cropped out of the photo. Her uniform is very crisp and clean.

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. (Goodreads)

The Perfect Nanny (US title, also titled Lullaby in England) is inspired by a real-life event; the Murder of Krim siblings. Reading about said event, I became very intrigued to see how Leïla Slimani has taken in this tragedy, and turned it into a book. I’ve read interesting reviews of this book and look forward to reading it. Slimani is a Franco-Moroccan writer, journalist, and French Diplomat.  

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Cover shows a woman's silhouette in profile. We only see her from about the chest up. Surrounding her shoulders are the tops of foliage, perhaps stalks of wheat. The nearly black silhouette of her and the wheat is against a bright red background.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison. (Goodreads, shortened)

I’ve saved an exceptional book for last 🙂 Both The Vegetarian and Han Kang have a special place in my heart. Han Kang is a South Korean author. Her work is heartbreaking, brutal, and emotional. The Vegetarian is told in three parts, all focusing on Yeong-hye and her life; how people with mental illnesses are viewed and used, how mental illnesses affect different lives, and how people choose to work on it. A harrowing, beautiful, and subtle psychological horror book that is sure to move you. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez. Join HOWL Society on Monday, January 17, 2022 to begin discussion!

ghazal gh. (they/them) works with puppets, writes, and translates. Born and raised in Iran, they grew up surrounded by books and theater, and work to continue in and contribute to that world. They work backstage to avoid the EYES and spend their time annoying their cats. 

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