The idea of a cult can be as gripping as being caught in the throes of one. So if you're vulnerable to persuasive plots and mind-altering outcomes, then read on for a selection of books about cults that have drawn us in and changed the way we think.

 

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Survivor

Chuck Palahniuk

When the activities of the Creedish Church are leaked to the public, the secret workings of this suicide cult are compromised.  Yet ten years on from the group’s mass suicide, the few remaining members start to die in less-than-clear circumstances.

As the supposedly sole-surviving member, Tender is elevated to a position of religious superstardom, but when the cause of the deaths presents itself, the truth is closer to home than he thinks. Narrated from the cockpit of a hijacked plane, this novel is Chuck Palahniuk at his most complex and unflinching. Brace yourself!

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Underground

Underground

Haruki Murukami

Murakami’s probing account of the 1995 Tokyo Gas Attack, in which members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult killed twelve commuters and injured over a thousand more in a gas attack on Tokyo’s subway network, is a harrowing but illuminating compilation of interviews with the surviving victims. Largely overlooked by a media storm whipped up by public intrigue over the cult and its actions, the victims’ accounts tell of a wider cult in Japan at that time, one of incessant work, materialism, and social isolation.

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Night Film

Night Film

Marisha Pessl

Night Film is a novel that most filmmakers would be envious of. Fast-paced, observant, and deft in its characterization, Marisha Pessl has created a thrilling piece of fiction with more than hint of Stanley Kubrick about it. Indeed, when the daughter of a reclusive and Kubrick-esque director of cult films is found dead in a Manhattan warehouse, her father and his work fall into a spotlight of suspicion. Night Film asks questions of art, namely the relationship between sadistic creations and the mind of those who create them.

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The Testament

The Testament

Colm Toibin

All too often, cults spring from intense religious fanaticism stirred by individual claims of messianic appointment. But what happens if that individual is Christ Himself? Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary is a controversial and at times subversive narrative told from the perspective of the Virgin Mary. As her heartbreak is made achingly apparent, the prescribed story of Christ and his disciples wavers, bringing a human poignancy to one of the oldest stories in history.

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The Secret History

The Secret History

By Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt’s debut novel The Secret History saw such immediate success upon publication that it became a cult novel in its own right. Tartt offers a stunning narrative of six young adults bound not only by their privileged social clique but also by a murder for which they are all in some way accountable. Less of a whodunnit than a whydunnit, this novel explores the cult of aestheticism and youth as it observes the group’s gradual spiral into chaos.

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Bacchae

Bacchae

Euripides

Widely proclaimed as one of the greatest tragedies ever written, Euripides’ Bacchae is a classical yet remarkably prescient exploration of power, corruption, and influence. Dionysus, the self-proclaimed god of wine and ritual madness, returns to his birthplace at Thebes to exact revenge for their lack of belief in his deification. Convincing his cousin Pentheas to spy on his fanatical female followers, Dionysus gives away the voyeur’s location and watches as he is torn limb from limb by the frenzied cult. Pentheas’ mother is one of the horde, who comes out of her trance only to realise what she has done. Parental warning: live performances may contain scenes of wild debauchery and/or nudity.

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The Girls

Emma Cline

Inspired by the Charles Manson affair from 1969, The Girls explores a Californian cult of beautiful young women, led by the intoxicating Suzanne and charismatic Russell, living in a dilapidated ranch. These mesmerising girls draw the protagonist, Evie, into a world of obsession, crime and violence. Cline's novel questions the difficulties of growing up, and the tensions of girlhood. 

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