Here are five authors’ first novels that come with a disturbing twist
My favourite reads: Melanie Smith
Here are five authors’ first novels that inspired me to read more of their works. I’m a fan of horror, and while these are far from scary stories, they did disturb or spook me out, just as any good tale of terror would. These are not for the squeamish.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)
Eugene, a devout Christian and strict disciplinarian abuses his family, using religion to justify his actions and keep his wife and children Kambili and Jaja subdued. But a trip to their liberal aunty Ifeoma’s house, where they stay with their three cousins, opens their eyes to a fun and loving household where they’re encouraged to express themselves. Eye-opening brutality is expressed in prose so beautiful I could not stop reading.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987)
This isn’t Ellroy’s first novel, but is the first in the author’s LA Quartet, a series that piqued the public’s attention. LA Confidential, the third book in the series, was made into a movie in 1997, which was nominated for nine Oscars. The Black Dahlia centres on the relationship between two Hollywood police officers working to solve the murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short. It deals with a number of issues, including police corruption and moral depravity, but what’s really striking is Short’s brutal killing, which is based on a true murder case.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
Pecola, a young black school girl growing up in Ohio, is teased for her skin colour, curly hair, so different to her white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed peers. She longs for blue eyes to fit in and feel pretty. Her happiness improves towards the end of the novel, but at the expense of her sanity. Morrison’s powerful story questions the notion of beauty in western societies and tackles issues of self-esteem and mental health. It’s gripping, but heavy reading.
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (1978)
This dark, macabre, coming-of-age tale follows the desire of four siblings to survive after the deaths of their parents. So as not to be split up by the authorities, the children keep their mother’s death a secret and bury her in cement in the cellar. But without a matriarch or figurehead to guide their discipline, the children quickly descend into moral depravity. It’s a bleak, but brilliant read, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
The story starts with a murder committed by rich university students, and it’s a member of their very own gang who they kill. The reasons why are slowly revealed as the book progresses, and we’re drawn into the weird world and distorted thoughts of the students – their strange reasoning and behaviours that lead up to the murder. It can be slow at times, but it’s oddly captivating.
Melanie Smith is a chief sub-editor at The National