1. One that really stuck with me was The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.
I think just because it’s rather intensely focused on survival as a competition (100 young men, 18 years old, walking continuously until there’s only one left. The others will die of exhaustion or breaking rules, one of which is a minimum speed limit that must constantly be maintained) and the psychological effects of that on the contestants.
2. Gerald’s Game is a great book, but it also made me want to throw up.
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a long read but a solid contender to be considered one of the most unsettling, dark novels I’ve read.
4. I just finished a book called “Indifferent Stars Above”.
It was recommended on a podcast I listen to called Last Podcast On The Left. It’s about the Donner Party and their “hardships” around the Sierra Nevada during their journey to California. It’s a true story and involves a lot cannibalism. Like straight up kids eating their parents kinda deal. It’s harrowing enough to make you never want to go out into the snow.
5. Two book series actually. Both are from Quebec.
The first is called “Cobayes” which would translate to “Guinea Pig”. Each book follows a different person in the same medical trial and how the injection affects each. It ranks from becoming a religious fanatic to becoming a serial killer or cannibal.
The second one is called “The forbidden tales” which are dark retelling of classic fairy tales such as “The little mermaid” where the character grows in a circus and is exposed as a freak and real life mermaid alongside a lobster boy and is also sold for sex after hours. Another one in the series is “Peter Pan” where Hook is a detective who got his hand chopped off and eaten by a cannibalistic criminal nicknamed the crocodile who is also obsessed with watches and where Peter kidnaps children to bring them to a ranch called Neverland.
Both are pretty dark.
6. The Road
It’s pretty common knowledge by now, but this book was the basis of Naughty Dog’s video game The Last of Us. The game inspired me to watch the movie, and the movie inspired me to read the book.
It left me emotionally and mentally drained. It’s so depressing and dark, an overwhelming sense of dread and hopelessness mixed with a slight dash of hope that the boy will make it. The pervasive sense of fear and loneliness throughout the story eats at you and feeds on your paranoia.
7. Johnny Got His Gun.
The story is about a WWI soldier who loses both arms, both legs, his entire face, eyes, tongue…but his mind still works. He learns to communicate by bouncing his head off the pillow in Morse code.
Read it when I was 15. I’m 61, and still scarred.
8. I’m going to go with the most unexpectedly dark and nominate the late 90s kids’ series “Animorphs.” It looks like all fun and games and kids turning into animals, but most people don’t realize it’s actually a series about a war between six kids acting as guerrillas and a full force of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers type aliens. It does not go light on the gore, major character death, psychological horror, post-traumatic stress, and it has enough YA 90s humor to have you jumping back and forth between laughing and crying multiple times per chapter.
9. The Lovely Bones.
I remember I couldn’t put the book down at 12 years old. It really got me interested in abductions and true crime in general.
10. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Carny folks decide to create their own sideshow by using drugs to mutate their children. One of the kids then starts his own religion. It’s the only that’s ever given me nightmares and I refuse to re-read it.
11. Not a book but an entire series – A Series Of Unfortunate Events.
“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. Well all know that our time in this world is limited. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try to readjust the way you thought of things.”
It’s a children’s book.
12. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston. It’s a book detailing events and information about small pox. It describes symptoms which are horrific enough on their own but it also discusses how different countries have tried to weaponize small pox. It’s the only book I’ve read that has kept me awake at night.
13. ‘Torture the Artist’ by Joey Goebel.
A rich media mogul realizes that his life has done much to staunch “real art” so he starts a program to find talented youths and assign them “managers” who can guide and nurture them to produce works of cultural significance. How do they do this? By secretly turning their lives into a living hell of misery and suffering.
This book has it all, from killing family pets and leaving them beneath the Christmas tree – to bribing or coercing every person that cares about the client to hurt and leave him.
14. If I Stay.
It sets up this whole cutesy happy family relationship with the protagonist being a teenage girl (mom, dad, and younger brother as family), and as soon as you get attached and interested, the whole family dies graphically in a car crash except for the girl, Mia, who is in a coma. She spends the book deciding whether to wake up from the coma or die and be with her family. It was a terribly depressing read.
Bonus points for an awful sequel (spoilers, she lives) where she becomes a famous cello player and sleeps with her ex, who was her heartbroken bf in the first book. It’s all about the pain of time changing and old loss and things left unspoken. Not as bad as the first book but still. Awful.
15. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. I was off reading for a few weeks after I finished it.
16. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a very famous allegorical novel that asserts the existence of an innate savagery within us all. You may or may not have read it before, but if you haven’t, then heed my warning: there is not a shred of optimism to be found anywhere in its ~200 pages. It’s about a group of boys trying to survive while stranded on a desert island. As time goes on, they become more and more uncivilized, and the situation deteriorates to the point of extreme violence and cruelty.
17. The Stand is pretty intense.
There is literally a chapter dedicated to telling short stories of how several people died in the plague in gruesome detail. Pretty depressing story, but a fun ride for sure.
18. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is surprisingly dark when compared to its movie counterpart, but it is also one of my favorite books!
19. I’ve read plenty of horror books but I like horror related content so although some of them are probably darker, they haven’t stayed with me like this has. The thing that’s actually disturbed me, due to it’s context is The Boy with the Striped Pajamas. I’m not easily bothered, but just… damn.
20. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. It’s a short story about an automated house going about its business: making breakfast, waking up its residents, etc. However the residents were killed by nuclear weaponry.
21. American Psycho. The movie is awesome but barely scratches the surface of Patrick’s depravity.
22. Choke by CP was a pretty good one too. The way the character was obsessed with… well I wont spoil it.
23. 1984. Especially after I realized there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen here. Just because I grew up in a free society isn’t a guarantee that the same society will always be free. There’s no guarantee humanity will prevail. We could theoretically live in absolute oppression forever if those in charge are as effective as in 1984
24. The Last Policeman. Trilogy series about a world that knows it’s days are numbered. A rogue meteor is detected that they know will hit Earth (I think it starts at two years until impact), and there is nothing they can do to stop or deflect it. Chronicles civilization’s descent into chaos. Follows one policeman who uses his time to help others solve crimes and find missing persons.
Kinda like “Looking for a Friend for the End of the World”, but with more of a crime/mystery angle instead of romcom.
25. Dhalgren by Samuel R Delaney. It has this unsettling nightmare feel to it that stuck with me for a month after finishing it.
26. High Life by Matthew Stokoe. That book was so hard to read in a few places that I needed up skipping a few pages ahead in my paperback just to get past those scenes. I still have his book Cows on my kindle, but I haven’t been able to get the courage to read it yet.
For non-fiction I would go with Deranged by Harold Schechter. That one was about Albert Fish, and it was a gruesome read.
27. I always felt that Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irwin Welsh ,(the guy who wrote Trainspotting) was quite dark, but mainly depressing. There is a twist right at the end of the book and it makes you question everything. It left me emotionally drained for two weeks after reading it. Normally, id move on to a new book straight away but I had to digest that book for a while first.
28. The Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.
It’s a historical fiction novel based on the author’s real life experiences of being a marine corps officer in the Vietnam War.
It’s an incredibly realistic depiction of the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as a look into racism between white and black soldiers.
The book gives pretty grim and brutal descriptions of war and details the life of a bush marine deep in the jungles of ‘nam.
29. The Butterfly Garden. Totally dark…but absolutely captivating.
30. Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky.
It’s just a senior citizen living in a basement apartment, being stuck and bitter.
I read about ten pages, and lost three weeks to a depressive haze. For the entire semester afterward the book was standing on my desk, but I wouldn’t touch it to move it. I couldn’t even look at it straight.
Lost track of my copy. Good riddance.
31. The Glass Castle is a severely underrated book that has a hell of a lot of dark elements.
It also has a movie which I haven’t seen, but I recommend anyway.
32. Needful Things by Stephen King has every terrible thing in the world in it. After I finished reading it, I didn’t feel like I had gained anything except a sense of misery.
33. When Rabbit Howls, by the Troops for Truddi Chase, an autobiographical account. The Troops are the ninety-two personalities manifested by Truddi Chase’s dissociative identity disorder, which was caused by her being unrelentingly tortured physically, sexually, and mentally since she was three. One personality, Rabbit, does nothing but scream like a dying rabbit.
34. I’m not sure about darkest, but the book that really made me feel awful and need to have a cry was Cujo by Stephen King. The ending is such a tragedy.
35. “A Child Called It” by David Peltzer. His account of his abusive childhood. There is a sequel as well. I read it once when I was younger and it just stuck with me.
36. Intensity by Dean Koontz. Crazy good book and that truly lives up to its name.
37. Flowers For Algernon – it isn’t necessarily dark, but the ideas and thought of the main character are. it’s about a mentally disabled man who undergoes a trial to improve his mental state and – i won’t spoil the ending, but i cried like crazy at the end.
38. John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. Seriously, fuck that novel.
39. For non-fiction: Atrocities: the 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History.
Fiction: Heart of Darkness.
40. The Beach by Alex Garland (same guy who directed Ex Machina) it’s a really nice story until the ending that’s when it gets really fucked up.
41. Identical by Ellen Hopkins. First time I can remember that a book made me feel sick.
42. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel.
I read it as a kid familiar with the fairy tale and was… unprepared for all the raping.
43. Auschwitz by Miklos Nyiszli.
Want a view of what went on in a concentration camp by a Jew forced to assist Dr. Mengele in his human experiments? Then boy is this a book for you.
44. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is SUPER dark. It’s quite a shocking read if you’re only familiar with the silly movies.
45. Under the Dome. SPOILERS AHEAD
Seriously, nothing positive happens in that book until the very end. There’s a brutal rape scene, several murders, necrophilia, sadism, megalomania/extreme power abuse by an elected official, and then to top it off, a huge explosion arbitrarily kills half the characters.
46. Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk. Loved every other book I read by him. This one messed me up for a while.
47. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. Just absolutely bleak at best and horrifying at worst.
For context, same guy who wrote Requiem for a Dream
48. It was a book called “Death is a Noun”. It’s basically a very ration and clinical examination of what happens when you die, the mechanics of how your organs shut down one by one, what exactly is done during an autopsy, how your body decays, what’s done to prepare your body for a funeral, and what happens to your soul in the afterlife depending on your faith.
Very interesting but also very, very dark and depressing.
49. I used to work in a movie theater and on one slow day I found a graphic novel in the lost and found called Not Simple. I read the whole thing on my shift and it was the saddest, darkest, most depressing and tragic story I ever read.
In a nutshell it’s about a boy who’s looking for his lost sister, but it turns out the sister is actually his mom who was raped by their dad. The parents get divorced and his “mom” who is really his grandma ends up with the kid. She resents him for breaking up her marriage so she pimps him out. It just goes downhill from there. Then the kid and his sister/mom get AIDS from the same guy.
50. On the Beach. SPOILERS
It’s a product of the cold war era. Written from the perspective of Australia after a nuclear war, everyone else in the world is dead and Australians are just waiting for deadly radioactive fallout to reach them. People start having death races, and the government hands out euthanasia injections for free. It’s pretty dark.