As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t do scary, creepy, or horrifying. This week, I’m sharing some of my favorite non-horror Halloween-appropriate reads. Welcome to the second installment of…

Halloween for the Faint of Heart Badge

Halloween isn’t just about the scare factor, at least in my opinion. It’s also about the bizarre. I recently read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and I think would make for some nice, short Halloween reading.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Depending on who you ask, The Metamorphosis is either a short story or a novella. Published first in 1915, it is probably one of Kafka’s best known works. It’s the one that begins with that famous first sentence (translations vary a little, but the gist is the same):

“When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect.”

That, right there, is why I put off reading this story for so long. A guy wakes up to discover he’s turned into a big bug while he slept? I wasn’t really interested. I ended up quite enjoying the story, though, mostly thanks to Kafka’s writing.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (cover)When Gregor Samsa, traveling salesman and sole supporter of his family, awakens in his new state, his first thoughts are not filled with panic over his altered form. Instead, he is worried about having missed the train, which means he will be late for work. His family, concerned by this lapse in his usual punctuality, begins knocking on Gregor’s door, asking if he’s alright. As Gregor’s voice morphs from human into insect, he tries to work out how to get off his back and unlock the door without hands.

Unable to communicate with one another, Gregor and his family are faced with the challenge of figuring out how to coexist. His parents and sister can’t turn their backs on poor Gregor, yet he is nothing like the son and brother they know. Who will support them all financially? And how can they explain the presence of a gigantic insect in their home?

I enjoyed this story far more than I thought I would. Despite its bizarre subject matter, the writing in The Metamorphosis is rather delightful. For example, when the chief clerk from Gregor’s office arrives at his house and demands that Gregor open his door:

Gregor tried to imagine whether something like what had happened to him today might one day happen to the chief clerk himself; one really had to admit that it was possible.

The story, odd and bleak as it is, is full of such little passages. They made the story for me; without them, it would have been just a very bizarre tale about a man who inexplicably became a large beetle. Overall, The Metamorphosis an interesting and well written story. The intersection of ordinary life with one fantastical element is what makes this tale especially well suited to the atmosphere of Halloween.

If you missed the previous Halloween for the Faint of Heart posts, you can find them here:

Your Turn!

What strange short stories or novellas would you recommend for Halloween to a reader who’s a bit faint of heart?

Join the Conversation


  1. Congratulations on your new blog! it looks great. as far as halloween stories, i’d suggest anything by author Kelly Link or maybe Neil Gaiman. I’m a big fan of Link’s and have heard many raves about Gaiman.

    1. Thanks, Marie! I’ve never read Kelly Link–I’ll have to look into her stories. Neil Gaiman is a great recommendation! I always forget he writes short stories. I’ve listened to several of his novels as audiobooks and quite enjoyed them.

  2. I absolutely love The Metamorphosis! But then again, I think that’s one of the best opening lines that ever existed. It varies, too, from translation to translation, so it’s always interesting to see how people react. I wish I could read it in the original! This is one I’ve read 3 or 4 times in my life. I adore Kafka!

    1. It is definitely a good opening line! I’m glad I had a reason to read it, because I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Kafka’s writing, especially.

    1. Sounds like I need to try something of Kelly Link’s! I think I get stuck on Poe’s The Raven. Not one of my favorites. I should give something else by him a shot, maybe.

  3. I’ve always meant to read this but never have. Yet it is one of those books that you kind of already know so much about it that you feel like you’re read it already.

    I’m trying to think of weird but not scary. As always when faced with a direct question, I freeze up. If I think of something I’ll come back and share it.

    1. I thought I knew all about The Metamorphosis but ended up being surprised at the direction it went. Though it’s quite possible you know more than I did! I really enjoyed Kafka’s writing style in this story; it added a lot the way he wrote Gregor, especially.

      You can feel free to disregard my questions. They’re meant to encourage conversation, not leave you tongue-(finger-?)tied! 🙂

  4. I am just like you!!!! I hate scary stuff. And despise Halloween for a number of reasons. But now I have a three-year-old, so maybe the costume party, etc will make it more fun this year.

    I didn’t love METAMORPHOSIS but we read it with my book group a few months ago and I thought we had a great discussion. I appreciated it more after discussion.

    As for recommendations for you, hmm. I enjoyed Hawthorne’s stories. They are ghosty but rather tame. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It’s very suspenseful, but not scary at all. In fact, most of Wilkie Collins is pretty great when it comes to suspense.

    1. I think having a small child around might make Halloween more fun. They tend to do cute rather than scary!

      I definitely enjoyed discussing The Metamorphosis with my book group. I did enjoy it when I read it, but talking about it was really interesting.

      Ghostly but tame sounds good to me! I’ve heard a lot about The Woman in White lately. One of my newish reading goals is to read more classics, so I’ll definitely add that one to the list.

  5. I’ve not read any Kafka yet, although both, Metamorphosis and The Trial are on my list. Really should read at least one of them soon.

    Thanks for the review – I’m trying to think of non-scary Halloween reads, and Gaiman comes to mind. At least the couple of books I’ve read by him. Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger is a kind-of ghost story as well, but that is slightly spooky!

    1. I’d like to read The Trial for my next Kafka. My husband told me he read about half of it before he got so frustrated that he gave up. I thought that was a bad thing, but he said he was frustrated with the characters, that Kafka had done such an amazing job writing the story that my husband couldn’t stand to read it. I’m intrigued!

      I love Gaiman. I listen to most of his stuff, especially when he reads it himself, so he’s coming tomorrow with the audiobook recommendations! I’ve not read any of his shorter works, though, and would like to.

      Someone told me The Little Stranger kept her up at night, so now I’m scared to try it!!

  6. Bizarre, most definitely from what you’ve written about it! Do you get to find out why it happened to him?

    I love the idea of this feature. I generally reckon fiction doesn’t have the capacity to scare like movies but sometimes it really can, so a middle way is a good option.

    1. No! The questions I had never got answered. Some of them never even got asked. And that’s part of what I enjoyed — the story did not go the direction I expected or focus on what I would have predicted.

      Fiction definitely has the capacity to freak me out! Movies are extra bad, because of the visual element, definitely. But, I don’t really feel excluded from the Halloween horror movie frenzy like I do from the book equivalent!

  7. Terrific post, Erin. I think Kafka is a brilliant writer. In another author’s hands The Metamorphosis probably would have been awful. But it’s a fascinating story & bizarre too! Although not horror or a true thriller, I think it’s a fantastic Halloween read and more worthwhile than many books!

    1. That’s so true, Amy! The Metamorphosis would have been completely different (and potentially bad!) if someone else had written it. Kafka seems to have a knack for taking bizarre premises and making them work. I can’t do horror or true thriller, so I have to settle for alternatives!

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