If, like me, you’re rather sensitive and have an overactive imagination then I wouldn’t recommend the following books for light bedtime reading. I was so distressed after reading them, that after each case, I frantically dug out my collection of dusty Victorian novels, and held a special ‘Anthony Trollope’ readathon just to bring my anxiety levels down. This of course is not meant as a criticism of the books, or indeed of their respective literary merits – it’s just a record of three books that distressed me to no end.
First up is…
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1965), by Yukio Mishima
This novel follows the life of the teenager, Noboru, who hangs out a bunch of troubled thirteen year old boys. They form a volatile gang and have many debates about nihilistic philosophy. As they grow in confidence they also start rejecting conventional morality. Knowing they can’t be held criminally responsible (apparently under Japanese law you have to be fourteen) they push the boundaries and decide to ritually mutilate a live kitten. They eventually smash his brains out on the ceiling! If this wasn’t distressing enough, they also hatch a plan to lure a sailor called Ryuji to their den ‘on the pretense of wanting to hear some of his sea stories’. Blissfully unaware, his tea is drugged, and as has passes out, they pulverise him too. This novel distressed me on so many levels.
Next we have …
Death in Venice (1912), by Thomas Mann
I’m a primary school teacher… need I elaborate why this book deeply troubled me? I understand it was ‘ruinous inward passion’, but it distressed me nevertheless.
And last, but definitely not least…
The Judge’s House (1891), from Dracula’s Guest, by Bram Stoker
This is a creepy tale of a skeptical maths student who moves into a house said to be haunted by a deranged judge who handed out the death sentence with relish. While studying late at night, Malcolm, is frequently disturbed by a giant rat with ‘evil, menacing’ eyes that sits in a high-backed oak chair. One night he notices a rope hanging from the great alarm bell on the roof, and sees the giant rat climbing down. There is an old portrait of the aforementioned judge near the rope, and when he looks closely at his face, he notices the judge’s evil eyes are the same as the giant rats!
When he turns around it is not the rat sitting in the high-backed chair, but the judge in his scarlet robes [reading this my blood literally went cold, and I had goose pimples all over my arms. I did not for one moment suspect the judge to be the rat!]. With a cruel smile on his face the judge puts his black cap on, and ties a noose with the end of the rope. Malcolm passes out in fright and the noose is placed over his neck. The judge then kicks away the chair, and poor Malcolm is left swinging. This of course makes the bell toll, and when the villagers come to enquire, they find the lifeless Malcolm, and on the portrait … a malignant smile on the judge’s face!