THROUGHOUT HISTORY, there have been remarkable books that, upon their release, sparked a firestorm of outrage, entangling themselves in obscenity trials or posing a serious risk to the publisher and author.
While these books prove to be excessively unsettling, it is crucial to recognise the inherent distinction between the narrative they present and the art form they embody. In other words, simultaneously true masterpieces that push boundaries and demand contemplation.
In celebration of thought-provoking and unsettling works, I present four of my favourite, most disturbing books of all time that embody this dual nature. These disturbing books invite you to venture beyond your usual reading preferences and embrace a different kind of literary experience. In other words, inspire you to read a slightly different kind of book than what you’d normally pick up.
Five of the most disturbing books
by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita tells the story of a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert, who becomes sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze, whom he calls “Lolita.” The novel provides a disturbing insight into Humbert’s twisted mind and justifying his immoral behaviour. Throughout the novel, Humbert manipulates and seduces Lolita, leading to a tragic and destructive relationship between them. The novel is considered one of the most sexually disturbing books of all time, exploring themes of obsession, desire, power, and morality, and raising questions about the nature of love, sexuality, and the human condition. Despite the controversial subject matter, the novel is considered a literary masterpiece for its complex narrative structure and poetic prose. The novel has been the subject of controversy and debate since its publication in 1955, with some critics condemning it as morally repugnant while others praise its literary merit and psychological depth. In the late 50s and beginning of the 1960s, the book was banned as “obscene” in France, England, Argentina, and New Zealand.
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding
This is the first novel I had to read during my high school years, which left me both disturbed as well as intrigued too. The novel tells the story of a group of British schoolboys who become stranded on a deserted island and attempt to govern themselves. As they struggle to survive, the boys begin to form alliances and rivalries, and their innate savagery is gradually revealed. The novel explores the themes of power, civilization, and human nature, as the boys’ attempts to establish order and govern themselves ultimately descend into chaos and violence. The novel is a powerful allegory of the human condition, suggesting that the darkness that exists within all of us can be unleashed in the absence of civilization and social norms. Lord of the Flies has become a classic of modern literature and has been widely studied in schools and universities around the world, prompting discussions about the nature of power, the consequences of violence, and the importance of civilization and morality.
by Hunter S. Thompson
This fascinating book, first published in 1966, provides a thought-provoking and unique insider’s view of the infamous motorcycle club, the Hells Angels. The disturbing book is based on Thompson’s experience living and riding with the Hells Angels motorcycle club for a year in the mid-1960s, and it’s a rare, first-hand portrayal of the club’s culture, history, and activities, including their disturbing violent clashes with rival gangs and the law enforcement agencies that pursued them. The Hells Angels are portrayed as a violent and lawless group of outcasts who thrive on drugs, sex, and rebellion against mainstream society. The book delves into the club’s initiation rites, the social hierarchy of the group, and their ongoing battles with other gangs and law enforcement. The book also examines the dark side of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, with which the Angels were closely associated. Overall, “Hells Angels” is a gritty and controversial exposé of one of the most notorious subcultures in America. It is a classic work of New Journalism that has influenced the genre and the way journalists write about subcultures and countercultures.
by Shirley Jackson
Disturbing and captivatingly unsettling, yet in a wholly distinct manner, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson holds a unique place within the realm of literature. The short story depicts a small town’s annual lottery, which is revealed to be a ritual sacrifice. The story opens with the townspeople gathering for the lottery, with anticipation building as each family draws a slip of paper from a box. Tessie Hutchinson, a housewife, draws the slip with a black dot, making her the “winner” of the lottery. The other villagers then proceed to stone her to death, with even her own family members participating. On top of that, the book highlights the dangers of blindly following tradition and the devastating consequences of groupthink and mob mentality. While the story was first published in the New Yorker at the time, the responses from readers were immense and negative, which led to subscriptions being canceled, and eventually, the Union of South Africa banned the book.
The Lottery was also published as a short movie in 1969, which you can watch on YouTube:
by Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho is a chilling and controversial novel that delves into the twisted psyche of Patrick Bateman, a wealthy and handsome investment banker living in the extravagant world of 1980s New York City. Seemingly leading a life of luxury, Bateman hides a dark secret—he is a sadistic serial killer who derives pleasure from brutal murders and acts of extreme violence. Ellis paints a disturbing portrait of Bateman’s descent into madness, detailing his obsessions with designer clothes, fine dining, and a twisted fixation on status and appearances. Through a narrative that blurs the line between reality and delusion, the novel explores themes of consumerism, identity, and the soullessness of modern society. Ellis’s vivid and graphic descriptions challenge the reader’s comfort zone, offering a thought-provoking commentary on the dehumanizing effects of materialism and the depths of human depravity.
Find American Psycho on Amazon, Bol.com, Waterstones, or Audible.
On a last note
Most of the books that were actually banned in the United States or elsewhere in the world had something to do with same-sex, rape, and so forth. Most of the above-featured, most disturbing books ever were banned in certain places in the world, and it’s interesting how these disturbing books reflect back the times that we are living in, only to show what’s considered appropriate or not. Please let me know your thoughts on these disturbing books in the comment section below. Critical thinking is encouraged. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading! This publication may contain affiliate links, which make my work possible. Please let me know your thoughts on these disturbing books I’ve featured in the comment section below.
For more book recommendations check out my bookshelf.