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5 Books like Shutter Island: When Minds Betray

Kedar Prasana itcherBooks like ‘Shutter Island’ are like sinister paramours – they make your own mind revolt against you, despite knowing that it’s not the right thing to do. Wondering if there’s more where it came from? The answer is – YES. This list of books similar to ‘Shutter Island’ will help you stay on your toes, all the time: ‘The Ice Harvest’, ‘The New York Trilogy’, ‘House of Leaves’, ‘The Woman in Black’, ‘Brighton Rock’. ~ Kedar Prasana

Hear That Rustle? That’s Your Courage Melting Away

I know you. I’ve known you my whole life. I’ve been waiting. Waiting for you to make an appearance. Waiting all these years. I knew you in the womb.

Gothic noirs – psychological thrillers, if you will – are guilty pleasures for all of us. After all, who doesn’t like a good, old-fashioned twist-in-the-tale story to make them feel brainless, perhaps lose their sleep a little, to boot?

‘Shutter Island’ is just about the perfect thriller (even Martin Scorsese agrees). It’s spooky. It’s fast paced. It’s gripping. It never dips in intensity. And, it will make you scratch your head.

The whole setting of a secluded island housing a mental institution, US Marshal duo of Daniels and Aule with questionable pasts and the never-ending mystery of Dr Cawley gel together awfully well to create a recipe that never goes bad.

A book like ‘Shutter Island’ is almost definitely going to make you want more. This list should be of some help then, just in case you run out of ideas.

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Books Similar to ‘Shutter Island’…

‘The Ice Harvest’ (Scott Phillips, 2000)

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Money has never done me good. It has done me the best.

Scott Phillips is not a name hidden in obscurity – at least, not in the world of American crime noir. ‘The Ice Harvest’ was the first published work of Phillips, and perhaps the best known yet.

Christmas is the highlight of the year for millions of people. For a stealthy handyman named Charlie Arglist, however, Christmas time is just another week in snowy Wichita. He’s not entirely unhappy, though. He’s sitting on a million dollars, and it’s just one night he has to live through to be a rich man.

What unfolds is a series of lowlife eccentricities, barroom imbecilities and carnal misgivings.

Similarity Match: 90%
The most striking similarity between these two books is the fact that they successfully blur the lines between the reliability of the narrative and the sanity of the readers themselves. However, ‘The Ice Harvest’, unlike ‘Shutter Island’, doesn’t push the boundaries of the horror.

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‘The New York Trilogy’ (Paul Auster, 1987)

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Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there.

Paul Auster is one of the best known New York authors. Often trying to code and decode mysteries and posing more questions than answering them, he has made it a habit of leaving his stories hanging frustratingly delicately; regularly leaving his readers flabbergasted.

My first encounter with his works was in a dusty newspaper room of the Asiatic Society Library of Bombay when I chanced upon ‘The New York Trilogy’. While never having returned to reading it, I still remember it very vividly, even though Auster is not someone people associate with remarkable prose.

This trilogy is a collection of vignettes – not always entirely incoherent – in the life of a private detective/wannabe writer who loses the plot, only to get sucked into mysteries that are foggier than January mornings in Siberia.   

Similarity Match: 85%
‘Shutter Island’ is arguably more gripping than ‘The New York Trilogy’. But they share healthy similarities in way of tying up most loose ends, leaving untied just the ones that matter the most.

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‘House of Leaves’ (Mark Z. Danielewski, 2000)

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It may be the wrong decision, but fuck it, it’s mine.

First published in 2000, ‘House of Leaves’ was quickly dismissed by critics and readers as a ‘fad’. A friend of mine, who actually succeeded in procuring a used copy (the publication was discontinued after the first run), described it as a ‘pretentious gibberish’.

Fifteen years on, little has changed. The book has already joined the pantheon of the forgotten. But to date, this remains the strangest book that I (and many others would definitely concur) have ever read.

Right from vertical footnotes with code numbers and systematically colour coded nouns and adjectives, to cryptic maps and recipes of the perfect joint, ‘House of Leave’ has it all. In the style of Borges, it’s a story that goes on and on about a film that has never existed.

And yes, it’s very, very intense if you catch it by the cuff of the collar.  

Similarity Match: 80%
‘House of Leaves’ has no plot to speak of, unlike ‘Shutter Island’. But still, both of them are aiming for the same bird – disorienting the readers to the point of no return.

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If You Like ‘Shutter Island’, You Will Like…

‘Shutter Island’ is ostentatiously American in outlook and approach. Just across the pond, meanwhile, things haven’t been too bad for mind-benders and cliff-hangers, either.  

‘The Woman in Black’ (Susan Hill, 1983)

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In that split moment, one world ended for me. I could feel them, feel their suffering, and feel them withering away. Why was it, then, that I couldn’t see them?

The Woman in Black’ is a swift, rewarding read – especially for the fans of books like ‘Shutter Island’.

The plot narrates preternatural encounters that confront a young attorney of the law named Arthur Kipps. The setting of a coastal village of minimal population in Victorian England couldn’t be any more perfect to summon some serious spook.

A movie adaptation of ‘The Woman in Black’ starring Daniel Radcliffe as young Kipps drew universal critical acclaim.

‘Shutter Island’ and ‘The Woman in Black’ share the ancient theme of the past catching up with people and vulnerabilities that show up in the process. While ‘Shutter Island’ chooses to be circuitous, ‘The Woman in Black’ prefers confrontations of awkward (read: scary) kind.

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‘Brighton Rock’, (Graham Greene, 1938)

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He put his mouth on her and kissed her on the cheek; he was afraid of the mouth-thoughts travel too easily from lip to lip.

This is perhaps the only entry on this list that is taught in English literature courses around the world.  

A product of a freakishly fertile 15-year stretch (1936-1951) in Graham Greene’s literary career that saw him publish ‘Journey without Maps’, ‘The Lawless Roads’, ‘The Power and the Glory’, ‘The Heart of the Matter’, ‘The Third Man’ and ‘The End of the Affair’, ‘Brighton Rock’ is probably the bleakest Greene ever wrote.

The plot revolves around a teenage gangster named Pinkie Brown and a revenge-fuelled detective named Ida Arnold. Along the way to retribution, Greene also touches Christianity, the moral fabric of society and the idea of crime and punishment for young adults.

The most obvious line of similarity between ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Brighton Rock’ is their audacity to hide the truth and fear in plain sight of the reader. ‘Brighton Rock’, at times, employs humour and satire, whereas ‘Shutter Island’ consciously tries to never wane in intensity.

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I Am You and What I See Is Me

Psychological thrillers have a great entertainment value. For our readers who need even more titles to address their cravings of some mind-boggling thrills, the following books can be quick fixes: ‘Carrie’, ‘Mystic River’, and ‘Faceoff’.

Comments, remarks, suggestions and feedback from our attentive readers are always welcome and appreciated!

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