Isn’t it the best when you’re watching a dodgy, completely unbelievable thriller movie on Lifetime, and at the end the following words appear on the screen? Based on real events.
Life is way stranger than fiction most of the time, serving up plotlines and characters that we’d never believe if we came across them in a book. Here are a few of my favourite true life stories.
1. People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows. In the summer of 2000, tall, blonde, Lucie Blackman disappears into the heat of Tokyo's summer. Months later, he dismembered remains are found buried in a seaside cave. Was it a calculated murder? Was she part of a cult? Journalist Richard Llyod Parry not only pieces together the surreal story, but creates a vivid picture of the woman who disappeared. This book was truly haunting, and utterly gripping.
2. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. There is nothing more terrifying to me than losing control of my own mind. Even more terrifying is the prospect that something is medically wrong with me, but is construed as insanity. After a violent blackout, Susannah Cahalan began acting strangely. She couldn't control her limbs, emotions and physical reactions. Doctors thought it was some sort of psychosis, when in fact she was suffering from a rare brain condition. This harrowing book affected me deeply. Even more so, the fact that her disease manifested in symptoms that looked quite similar to 'demon possession.' How many people were exorcised in the past, when they actually had something medically wrong with them?
3. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. In 1959, a group of young experienced hikers go on an expedition in Siberia. They don't return, and are found metres away from their tent, barefoot and frozen in positions of excruciating pain. Autopsies reveal abnormal traces of radiation in their bodies. What petrified the hikers so much that they ran from their tents, leaving their hiking boots lying in a row? And what caused their strange injuries? I couldn't read this book alone.
4. The Witches: Salem, 169. We all know the story of the Salem witches from The Crucible, but what really happened? Historian Stacy Schiff gives a detailed account of the real men and women involved in the Salem witch trials, providing a fascinating psychological analysis of humanity in the process. From a feminist point of view, this is the only time that women played a central role in American history other than the suffrage.
5. The Exorcist. Well, this novel needs no introduction. While the special effects of the film may fade, the terror of reading about the possession of 11 year old Regan does not.
6. The People of the Lie. M Scott Peck is best known for his novel, The Road Less Travelled. Yet through his role as a counsellor he has worked with many patients that he can only classify as 'pure evil.' His true stories and case studies look for the root of evil behaviour in humans. Are people socialised into this behaviour or is there a darker force at play? Peck likes to deliver long monologues of theory, but if you can stick it out through those, there are some fascinating true life stories, and real accounts at attempted exorcisms.