The best haunted house novels to scare the bejesus out of you

Who am I?

I’m a writer of sapphic horror and romance fiction, and a professor of nineteenth and twentieth literature and Women’s and Gender Studies. I’ve been an avid reader of ghost-focused fiction since I was a little kid. This fascination was, in part, encouraged by my horror-loving parents, but I think I’ve just always loved being scared, and for me, the scariest thing imaginable is a haunted house. I’ve read widely in the genre, by turns spooked, thrilled, and baffled, and this reading eventually encouraged me to write my own haunted house novels. If you love a chilling tale, you’re going to love the books on this list.


I wrote...

Gnarled Hollow

By Charlotte Greene,

Book cover of Gnarled Hollow

What is my book about?

Emily Murray has been given a chance of a lifetime: to work and study inside Gnarled Hollow, the former estate of one of her favorite authors. She doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but the house has a disturbing habit of changing dimensions—and not just physical ones. Rooms go missing, doors close on their own, and time has a strange tendency to disappear. Emily is joined by other scholars, among them the beautiful art historian, Juniper Friend. Together they begin to research the history of the house, refusing to abandon their work. Spurred on by their desire to uncover the mysteries of Gnarled Hollow and its ghostly inhabitants, they’re determined to uncover the truth, even if it means risking their own lives.

The books I picked & why

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The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Haunting of Hill House

Why this book?

Jackson’s writing is gorgeous. The opening paragraph is one of the best things in modern English, immediately plunging you into the tense, horrifying place that is Hill House. Hill House itself is upsetting, unruly, and haunted both by ghosts and time. The ghost hunters that have decided to investigate the long-abandoned Hill House are in for one hell of a ride, and they take the reader right along with them. The main character Eleanor Vance is studied in psychological damage, haunted herself by what’s happened to her. There’s also some nascent and sympathetic queer representation, jump thrills, and the kind of ghostly activity that would make anyone afraid to be alone.


The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories

By Henry James,

Book cover of The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories

Why this book?

While there are haunted house-like novels before James’s 1898 classic, this in many ways is a granddaddy of modern haunted tales. An isolated country estate? Check. A creepy housekeeper? Check. Two even creepier children, possibly possessed? Check, check! When the unnamed narrator is hired as the new governess in a remote country home in England, she arrives to find that her two young wards are already nearly corrupted by the ghosts of the former governess and groundskeeper. As she works to save them, the narrator herself is threatened, both by the ghosts and by the children she’s meant to save. The psychological possibilities of this book, however, linger at the edges of the text, threatening to undermine the whole notion of what this haunting really is.


Hell House

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of Hell House

Why this book?

As the name might suggest, this novel is very much a spiritual descendant of Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, with a very similar setup: ghost hunters visit a haunted house that’s been abandoned for decades. That, however, is where the similarities end. In Matheson’s work, the haunting is more physical, with bodily threats to the ghost hunters at every turn, and the psychological and spiritual terror it inflicts does far more damage to them at each step, turning them against each other in violent and sometimes deadly ways.


The Elementals

By Michael McDowell,

Book cover of The Elementals

Why this book?

This is one of those books that creeps up on you. The setting is unusual and it uses the tropes of Southern Gothic in unexpected ways. For one thing, McDowell’s novel is set at the beach during a vacation. Most of the haunted activity takes place during the day in the oppressively sunny landscape of the vacation home for a group of visitors recovering from various ills. For another, and like a lot of Southern Gothic stories, family dynamics and history are a big part of the backstory here, but there are unpredictable elements as well, including the very nature or un-nature of the setting itself.


The House Next Door

By Anne Rivers Siddons,

Book cover of The House Next Door

Why this book?

This is a significant departure from the notion of a “haunted house” most of us are familiar with. We expect an old house, haunted by the past, far from humankind, and left to rot and fester in isolation somewhere remote. The haunted house in Siddons’s novel, however, is right in the middle of an upper-class neighborhood in Atlanta, and it’s a brand-new build. Rather than being haunted by the ghosts of the past inhabitants, the house itself is a force of evil, corrupting all who cross its threshold in terrible, terrifying, and often deadly ways.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in haunted houses, ghosts, and Georgia (USA)?

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