Ten books about cults

21 April 2016

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.


The Followers by Rebecca Wait

Cults tend to appeal to those in society who are most vulnerable. So when Stephanie finds herself caught in a rut as a struggling single parent, the offer of a new life in rural Yorkshire comes as welcome salvation. Nathaniel, the charismatic founder and self-proclaimed leader of a moorland cult known as the Ark, promises deliverance, but for Stephanie’s daughter Judith, the cult begins to raise more questions than it answers.

As tensions amongst the group deepen, and Stephanie succumbs to Nathaniel’s indomitable will, it only takes one act of violence to change everything. This is a gripping thriller that asks serious questions about love, hope, and identity.

>>READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

 

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandell

Nothing stops us in our tracks like post-apocalyptic fiction, as questions like ‘what would I do to survive?’ descend on us like a nuclear winter or - in the case of Station Eleven - a devastating flu that wipes out ninety-nine percent of the population. Emily St John Mandell interrogates the constructs of human civilization – from the arbitrary cult of celebrity to the extreme and dangerous cult of religious fanaticism. When personal survival means everything, Station Eleven asks what place is left for culture.

>>READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

 

The Utopia Experiment by Dylan Evans

Utopia. Green fields, golden sunsets, social harmony. Or in the case of The Utopia Experiment, two yurts on a remote Scottish farm, a revolving cast of mystics, idealists, and ‘doomers’, and an unexpected turn of events. When Dylan Evans quits his job at a futuristic robotics firm and sells his house to relocate to a field somewhere in Scotland, he is joined by a group of recruits all intent on leaving the complications of modern life behind. But the ‘good life’ isn’t always good, and as the situation shifts from hilarious to harrowing, utopia looks increasingly hard to reach.

>>READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

 

Kraken by China Mieville

When a giant pickled squid disappears from the Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow is intent on recovering it. However, in what the author describes as ‘a dark comedy about a squid-worshipping cult and the end of the world’, Billy is drawn into an alternative London that operates beneath its glossy cosmopolitan fa├žade, a place of competing cults with intricate belief structures, and a militant police wing intent on breaking them down. China Mieville blends absurdity with thought-provoking seriousness, and to great effect. Truly fantastic fiction.

>>READ THE FIRST CHAPTER

 

Survivor by 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!

 

Underground by Haruki Murakami

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.

 

Night Film by 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.

 

The Testament of Mary by 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.

 

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.

 

Bacchae by 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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