The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman
The disturbing tale of a young man's obsession with the Sandman, stealer of eyes, which has inspired writers from Sigmund Freud to Neil Gaiman.
I felt sick to my stomach throughout most of this. There’s nothing overly supernatural, creepy, or terrifying - just a horribly unsettling undercurrent of tension and dread running underneath each word. It’s a marvel.
Hoffman’s skill here isn’t in depicting ghouls or demons, but in showing us the effects an encounter with such (whether perceived or otherwise) can have on the human psyche. Our protagonist is plagued by a situation from his childhood, and subconsciously seems to seek this out in his later years, leading to his descent into madness.
I enjoyed that Hoffman left everything open to interpretation - were these ghastly villains really what our protagonist thought they were, or did he merely conjure it all in his imagination, having nested there for years as a repressed fear? Either way, it’s a heart-stopping thought.