I have always been a sucker for a good old haunted house. I have and will continue to watch haunted house movies, take haunted house tours, read haunted house books and secretly harbor the belief that my own house is probably a little haunted. In my mind there is nothing more terrifying than the feeling—however fleeting—that something has violated your safe space and turned it into something menacing. That being said I LOVE that shiver of terror. A haunted house, while scary, is such an elegant monster.So without further a-boo (see what I did there?) let’s countdown my Five Haunted House Novels to Read When You’re Home Alone!
White is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly - Slipping away from them - And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story. ”Miri I conjure you ”
I’m in love with this novel. I love that the house itself is one of the narrators (the cruel, terrifying one). It draws from the Gothic tradition in many familiar ways (family curse, motherlessness, haunted, isolated house, tormented young woman) and deviates or innovates in others (multiple narrators—including the house, LGBT+ themes and again THE HOUSE is telling its own story). Oyeyemi is an artist when it comes to drafting that unsettled feeling at the base of your spine (see Mr.Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird for prime examples of her elegant unease).
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
And untrimmed hedges,
Hill House broods and waits…
Is Hill House haunted, or is it just Eleanor? True to form, Jackson gives us a tale where the answer to that question lies tantalizingly out of reach. The Haunting of Hill House has all the hallmarks of a classic haunter house story: unexplained noises, doors that shut by themselves, isolated and disorienting grounds, a nasty reputation among the locals, and that unshakeable uneasy feeling of something not quite right in the air. All that and more draws a scholar of the occult and his team of volunteers (his assistant, lonely Eleanor, and Hill House’s heir) to the foreboding Hill House. As unexplainable events unfold and fear grips and releases the guests one of them is affected more than the others and the house—or rather Ms. Jackson—toys with the reader as to what the source could be.
Reading Shirley Jackson is a perverse joy. I am obsessed with the fact that even her most haunting and terrifying stories don’t draw their real terror from the supernatural, but rather from the monsters lurking inside of us. I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House four times, and I’m still not sure who/what is really doing the haunting. And that definitely gives me the chills.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse have just moved into the Bramford, a stately old New York apartment building, with a bit of a reputation, but old buildings are full of history and not all of it can be good. Undeterred by its sinister image and its strange elderly residents, the Woodhouses tackle the ups and downs of being a young married couple. Namely, Rosemary sets up house, and Guy attempts to get work as an actor in a city with no shortage of talents leading man types. But things take a turn when Guy gets friendly with their senior neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet; Guy lands a great part, and Rosemary get pregnant. With Guy off at work, Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated with only her eccentric neighbors for company and a growing sense of dread about their interest in her baby.
So, yes I know. It’s not technically a haunted house story, but Rosemary’s Baby draws on that theme of the sacred space being violated by sinister forces. In this case both the safety of Rosemary’s house and her body become compromised by forces she cannot control nor truly understand without going mad. I love this book because it makes me feel unsafe, which I think is a great thing for a book to do. I worry terribly for Rosemary, I know that nothing is going to save her in any way that won’t scar her forever. It’s riveting, and every time I read it I am transported back to my original terrified reading as I sat on the floor of MY haunted apartment building’s laundry room floor.
Time Windows by Kathryn Reiss
It’s been an incredibly long time since I read this book, so long in fact that I can swear it had a different title when I read it in elementary school. I don’t have a brilliant enough memory to come up with an original plot description so I have to rely on the back of the book.
When Miranda moves with her family to an old hose in a small Massachusetts town, she discovers an antique dollhouse the duplicates her new home in miniature. Looking through the dollhouse windows, she is shocked to see scene from the tragic lives of the real hose’s past inhabitants. She soon realizes that her home is exerting an evil power over the women who live there. And even worse, Miranda’s own mother is succumbing to its influence! Miranda must find the key to unlock the past and so release the house from its spell. But doing so means Miranda must relive one of those terrifying dollhouse scenes.
I don’t remember much about this book, accept that I was terrified. I remember the very real fear I felt reading it during a thunderstorm by flashlight. I have read many books since then and can remember many of their plots and characters, but very few do I solely remember by emotional recall.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
From the Dover Thrift Edition: Built over an unquiet grave, the House of the Seven Gables carries a dying man’s curse that blights the lives of its residents for over two centuries. Now Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, an iron-hearted hypocrite and intellectual heir to the mansion’s unscrupulous founder, is attempting to railroad a pair of his elderly relatives out of the house. Only two young people stand in his way — a visiting country cousin and an enigmatic boarder skilled in mesmerism.
I had every intention of writing this entire post about The House of the Seven Gables, but everything I wrote came off sounding like one of my old grad school papers. So, I scrapped it. But this is my all time favorite haunted house novel. I love it because not only do I love a good creepy read, but I love Nathaniel Hawthorne and how his works often reach back into the real past of America’s early days only to come back with filthy hands. Hawthorne himself was haunted by his family’s involvement in the Salem Witch Trials (his ancestor was Judge John Hathorne, the only Witch Trial judge not to repent his role in the deaths of 20 innocent people. Hawthorne even changed his name—adding the ’w’—to distance himself from said relative) nearly 200 years after the fact. The House of the Seven Gables among many of his other works deals with the long shadow that ugly chapter casts in the United States. It is not only a story of spectral ghosts and magic curses, but of the ghosts of the cruelty normal human beings are capable of that poisons the wells of history for generations. It’s chilling in a very real way, because under the surface it’s absolutely real.
So there you have it, a whole neighborhood of my favorite haunted houses, feel free to trick or treat there this weekend!
Let me know what your favorite haunted houses are in the comments, on facebook, or instagram