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100 books that were just too disturbing to finish

By May 27, 2016September 11th, 2020Discussion and Recommendations

Most of us will read across the genres and inevitably that means that we will encounter one or two titles that push us out of our comfort zone; sometimes the subject matter can be so disturbing that it even  stops us from finishing a book.  This list of 100 books that were just too disturbing to finish is compiled from the answers given to our poll question asked on our social media sites and the results below are the books you, our followers chose.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

With almost twice as many votes as the second placed book Lolita is a novel that divides opinion. Humbert Humbert is a man with abominable desires and the determination to fulfil them through whatever means he can. The subject matter of paedophilia especially when written from the adult point of view was just too upsetting for many of you to cope with and 89 of you closed your copies before reaching the end.

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Review of Lolita

A Child Called It – Dave Pelzer

Dave Pelzer’s harrowing childhood memoir details some of the most appalling abuse of a child that has ever been written by a survivor; the fact that it is an account of something that actually occurred to a real child rather than the fictional imaginings of an author lifts this book from being merely nauseating and moves it into the realms of the truly disturbing.

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American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Swinging between the label obsessed decadence of the yuppie dominated eighties and the psychopathic mindset of the book’s protagonist Patrick Bateman coupled with the intricately detailed descriptions of his crimes makes this novel a worthy entry into our featured top ten.

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American Psycho UK

Review of American Psycho

Insomnia – Stephen King

Stephen King’s tale of Ralph Roberts’ inability to sleep, Low Men in Yellow Coats, life measuring balloon strings and the three fates is in fourth position left 40 of you too disturbed to finish off this typically hefty tome.

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The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

The rape and murder of a 14 year old girl is just the beginning of this book and the way in which her death affects her family and friends as witnessed by the murder victim from her own personal Heaven was just too much for many of you to bear.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The multi generational tale of the Buendia family and their never ending misfortunes is your sixth placed choice. Whether it was the unrelenting sadness that is present throughout the tale or the family’s seeming inability or even interest in trying to improve their lot, 38 of you just had to put this title back on the shelf before reaching its conclusion.

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The Shining – Stephen King

King returns in seventh place with probably his best known work; Jack Torrance’s decent into madness whilst he and his family are acting caretakers at The Overlook Hotel and his family’s fight to survive his insanity had 36 of you checking under the bed before throwing this book into the freezer in horror!

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Room – Emma Donoghue

In eighth is Room; The story of a mother and son held captive in a single room and told from the perspective of five year old Jack, this novel’s similarities to real life situations such as the Fritzl case and the unquestioning acceptance of his lot in life and was just too uncomfortable for many of you.

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Our penultimate pick for the featured top ten is Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic novel of a father and son’s quest to find sanctuary from a burning world. Unremittingly desolate and depressingly final, The Road is definitely worthy of top ten status.

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House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski

And finally, a book that refuses to give up its story easily. Mark Danielewski’s uniquely presented debut novel is a genre defying novel of love and horror and has the ability to leave you unsettled in a way you cannot quite put your finger on, you only know that you feel happier with the book closed while you gather your courage for another chapter or two.

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House of Leaves UK

Review of House of Leaves

11. Intensity – Dean Koontz

12. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty – Anne Rice

13. The Naked Lunch – William Burroughs

14. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

15. 50 Shades of Grey – EL James

16. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

17. IT – Stephen King

18. Pet Sematary – Stephen King

19. Gerald’s Game – Stephen King

20. Out of the Shadows – Ann Marie West

And after the featured top 20, here we take the list to cover the top 100:

Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill
The Wasp Factory –  Ian Banks
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman
Dr Sleep – Stephen King
The Bible
Wideacre – Philippa Gregory
Consequences – J.E. Sparks
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
The I5 killer – Anne Rule
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Others – James Herbert
Salems Lot – Stephen King
Flowers in the Attic – V.C. Andrews
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Bag of Bones – Stephen King
Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
The Long Walk – Stephen King

The Laws of Magic series – Terry Goodkind
Under the Dome – Stephen King
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
White Oleander – Janet Fitch
The Amityville Horror – Jay Anson
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
From a Buick 8 – Stephen King
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
Filth -Irvine Welsh
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
After The Quake – Haruki Murakami
Roots – Alex Haley
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
Lucky – Alice Sebold
Trilobites & other stories – Breece Pancake

120 Days of Sodom – De Sade
After The War Ended. The story of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia.
American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination – Kristian Williams
Ciderhouse Rules – John Irving
Endurance – Jack Kilborn
Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Juliette – Marquis de Sade
Mein Kampf – Hitler
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
The Dentist of Auschwitz – Benjamin Jacobs
The Entity – Frank Defelitta
An Obedient Father – Akhil Sharma
Skeleton crew – Stephen King
When Rabbit Howls – Trudi Chase
An American Tragedy – Dreiser
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
NOS4ATU – Joe Hill
Black House – Stephen King & Peter Straub
Talisman – Stephen King & Peter Straub
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Killing Lessons – Saul Black
The story of O – Pauline Reage
Naomis Room – Jonathan Aycliffe
Tar Baby – Toni Morrison
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Damned – Chuck Palahniuk
The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk
Hannibal Rising – Thomas Harris
He Sold Me For A Few Cigarettes – Martha Long
Lasher –  Anne Rice
One Last Summer – Caitrin Collier
Running with Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
The Bastard of Istanbul – Elif Shafak
The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
The Rats – James Herbert
Wave – Sonali Deraniyagala
The Shack – William P. Young
The Bone Tree – Greg Isles

Wow, what a long, and eclectic list, but with over 180 different titles mentioned in the poll we had to extend our usual list length in order to give a fair representation of the books our followers chose.
As always, if there are any books you feel should be added to this list, please let us know in the comments section.

Leave your vote


  • Lisa Jost says:

    A Confederacy of Dunces

  • Brian says:

    Your site banner covers a third of the screen. It’s impossible to read anything.

    • Kath says:

      ummm, there’s no banner on blog posts and our homepage banner is gone in a scroll.

      • Antonia says:

        The banner is fixed for me too, Kath. When I scroll, everything scrolls “under” it. I don’t see an option to add a photo, otherwise I’d add a screen shot.

  • Sachini Seneviratne says:

    I would suggest Desert Flower by Waris Dirie (although I did finish reading the book).
    It details Dirie’s rise from being a Somalian nomad to being a high-fashion model. She underwent FGM (female genital mutilation) as a child, and her description of it (although relatively short) is extremely shocking and can be too disturbing for some.

  • Tiffany says:

    The Unwind Series should most certainly be on this list. Extremely disturbing!

    • Annette wyatt says:

      I read Unwind. Totally creeps me out to this day. I love to revisit books. This one I cannot do. So disturbing I was almost sick with the “Unwinding” of a character I didn’t even like. This would be my number one pick here.

  • Tiffany says:

    Also Suffer the Children by Dean Koontz

  • Kite-Runner defeated me for a long time too. Struggled to get past the rape scene. Book that still defeats me, though, is George Orwell’s 1984. Have never been able to get past the rats.

  • Lisa says:

    Would just like to point out that Ghost Story is written by Peter Straub ALONE. The two novels he has written with Stephen King is The Talisman and Black House.

  • Jenn M says:

    The Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter should be on there. Some pretty disturbing things happened. I had to stop for a month until I built up the courage to go on.

  • Brittany Wisneski says:

    Ruby by Cynthia Bond is by far the most disturbing book I’ve finished. One that I could not finish was The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

  • Karen VanRavenswaay says:

    Whispers, by Dean Koontz.. After that one, which I eventually finished so I could sleep without nightmares, I never read another Koontz book.

  • christine says:

    5 of my favorite 10 books are on that list….

  • Elaine Meehan says:

    King Leopold’ s Ghost about the Belgians in the Congo was very hard to read. The brutality of the forced search for rubber (wild, in the forests) is awfully hard to take and also something that should be known.

  • Leslie says:

    Some of these are my favorites too. I look at the titles and think, who can these books possibly disturb that much? Then I wonder if that’s more of a sign that I’m pretty screwed up.

  • Maria Adlam-Apps says:

    There’s an awful lot of Stephen King books in there. Have to say I’m struggling with Insomnia – not because it’s disturbing but because I just find it hard to read! Don’t normally have that problem with his books. Some books I just read in the daytime like The Secret of Crickley Hall – tried reading it at night when I was downstairs on my own and it made the hairs on my neck stand up lol! Can’t read A Clockwork Orange either – I have tried but don’t like the writing style. It may be a classic but I think it’s awful!

  • Denise says:

    First they killed my father. So disturbing and depressing.

  • raymond geary says:

    whats distrubing is i have read seventeen of them

  • Marcia says:

    The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison

  • Linda says:

    The Terror. Based an a true story of a ship caught in the arctic ice in the 1800’s. Goes off into fantasy/horror with a giant maurading polar bear. The shop’s captain ends up betraying his crew and living with the enemy, I always keep all of my books, but I left that one in a campground laundry room. It made me too angry to keep it.

  • Clare says:

    On the Beach 1957 by Nevil Shute. I have read most of it, several times, but still can’t bring myself to finish it and face up the reality of the end of the human race.

  • Jackie b says:

    Watership Down for me.

  • Deborah Davies says:

    I would. Believe Breath by Tim Winton should be here

  • Cecelia says:

    All a matter of taste. Put down a Stephen King book, NEVER! My latest absolute favorite is Dr. Sleep!! I have only ever not finished 1 book. False Memory, Koontz; never picked up another Koontz book either. ?

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