The best novels about life in a haunted house

Ellen Prentiss Campbell Author Of Frieda's Song
By Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Who am I?

In my stories and novels, in my reading, and in my life, I'm inspired and captivated by what I call resonant places, places with deep connections to the past as well as the present moment. I grew up in a mid-century modern house my parents built. Although no other family had lived in it before, our own family—like all families—was haunted by ghosts of our past. My childhood home was bulldozed by the next owners; the house has become a ghost itself. But memories remain long after a family or a home is gone. As a writer, a reader, and a psychotherapist, I believe that memories are the seeds for both remembering and imagining.


I wrote...

Frieda's Song

By Ellen Prentiss Campbell,

Book cover of Frieda's Song

What is my book about?

Ellen Prentiss Campbell’s novel is inspired by renowned psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and her custom-built cottage on the grounds of the Chestnut Lodge Sanatorium. Fleeing Nazi Germany in 1935, Frieda came to the Lodge in Rockville, Maryland. She established the Lodge’s reputation for innovative treatment of mental illness, dying in her cottage under mysterious circumstances in 1957. Decades later, psychotherapist Eliza Kline and her teenage son Nick live in Frieda’s Cottage, next door to the closed and abandoned hospital. Eliza feels Frieda’s lingering influence and develops a relationship with her ghostly mentor. Frieda’s Song explores how the work, the people, and the homes we love shape our lives. The abandoned hospital burned but Frieda’s Cottage next door remained, and Campbell, a psychotherapist as well as an author, began this novel.

The books I picked & why

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Shirley

By Susan Scarf Merrell,

Book cover of Shirley

Why this book?

Shirley is set in author Shirley Jackson’s rambling Victorian house in Vermont, adjacent to the Bennington College campus. This is a story of psychological intrigue and intertwined creative and destructive influences, families in trouble, and ghostly presences. The story is narrated by a young faculty wife, Rose. She and her husband, a new professor at the College, live with Jackson and her husband, Professor Stanley Hyman. The house and the household are attractive and sinister, emotionally fraught and seductive. Merrell and I met as classmates in the Bennington Writing Seminars. We exchanged manuscripts for our then novels-in-progress. Now, as I re-read Shirley, I remember our walks past the house.

Shirley

By Susan Scarf Merrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shirley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING ELIZABETH MOSS AND MICHAEL STUHLBARG! 

“Susan Scarf Merrell brilliantly weaves events from Shirley Jackson’s life into a hypnotic story line”* in this darkly thrilling novel about the author of The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery.

Two imposing literary figures are at the heart of this captivating novel: celebrated author Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic and professor at Bennington College. When a young graduate student and his pregnant wife—Fred and Rose Nemser—move into Shirley and Stanley’s home in the fall of 1964, they quickly fall under the…


Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson,

Book cover of Housekeeping

Why this book?

Housekeeping is Marilynne Robinson’s first novel. The narrator, Ruth, looks back on the last days of her childhood in the family’s lakeside home. Following her mother’s suicide and her grandmother’s death, her vagabond Aunt Sylvie returns to take care of Ruth and her sister. Sylvie cannot bear the confinement of domestic life, and under her benign neglect the once cozy house reverts to the wild. The story is almost a fable of the conflict between yearning for security and yearning for escape. Families, as well as houses, can change and decay—and both kinds of ruins are haunting. This is one of my favorite books, a magical reading experience, a complicated fractured fairy tale. 

Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Housekeeping as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award

A modern classic, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother.

The family house is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in the Far West, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized…


So Long, See You Tomorrow

By William Maxwell,

Book cover of So Long, See You Tomorrow

Why this book?

In So Long, See You Tomorrow, an adult narrator looks back at childhood and the lingering effects of childhood loss and displacement. He recalls his mother’s death, his father’s remarriage, and moving from a beloved home. The author also tells a parallel story of the scandal that befell his friend Cletus: his father shot his mother’s lover, and then drowned himself. For the narrator, his lost boyhood home is recalled like a dream of paradise lost, a mirage of another life: “I dream about it, the proportions are so satisfying to the eye and the rooms so bright, so charming and full of character that I feel I must somehow give up my present life and go live in that house: that nothing else will make me happy.” This novel about haunting memories of a lost place and past will haunt the reader. This was one of my father’s favorite books, and it is one of mine as well. Books connect us to our own past, become a way of continuing conversation with people—ghosts if you will—who are gone.

So Long, See You Tomorrow

By William Maxwell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked So Long, See You Tomorrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel which charts the lives of two former friends until the father of one was responsible for the murder of the father of the other. They do not speak following the tragedy, but the victims son realises fifty years later that he has failed in a fundamental act of friendship.


The Home Place

By Wright Morris,

Book cover of The Home Place

Why this book?

Wright Morris believed that we are “inhabited” by the places where we have lived.

The Home Place is set on the plains of Nebraska where Morris was born. The text is combined with his photographs of farm buildings, farmhouse interiors, farming implements, cooking utensils, and furniture. Narrator Clyde Muncy returns from New York to the farm in Nebraska where he grew up, bringing his own family. He re-experiences the farm through the eyes, ears, and especially noses of his city wife and children. When his son sniffs a croquet ball and says it smells like the subway, Muncy observes, “Two thousand miles from New York a city boy turns up something in a farmyard, it smells damp and earthy, like a storm cave, so he calls it the subway smell.” Morris eschews sentimentality. His plain prose and black-and-white photographs are austere, like the farm itself. “Home is where you hang your childhood,” his protagonist says. This is a must-read for anyone who knows how a childhood home never lets you go.

The Home Place

By Wright Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Home Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reproduced from the 1948 edition of The Home Place, the Bison Book edition brings back into print an important early work by one of the most highly regarded of contemporary American Writers.

This account in first-person narrative and photographs of the one-day visit of Clyde Muncy to "the home place" at Lone Tree, Nebraska, has been called "as near to a new fiction form as you could get." Both prose and pictures are homely: worn linoleum, an old man's shoes, well-used kitchen utensils, and weathered siding. Muncy's journey of discovery takes the measure of the man he has become and…


Flora

By Gail Godwin,

Book cover of Flora

Why this book?

Godwin’s psychological mystery Flora takes place in a remote, isolated house, a former mountaintop sanatorium in Tennessee. Adult narrator Helen looks back on her ten-year-old self, and her premature coming of age the summer she lived there with her young adult cousin and temporary guardian, Flora. Helen’s father has gone to do war work, her mother is dead. Flora and Helen cannot leave the mountaintop due to a polio threat in the valley. Both child and caretaker fall under the spell of a charismatic jack of all trades, Quinn. The consequences of their unconscious competition play out in the shadowy rooms of the big house.

This is a tale of psychological possession in a lonely estate; Godwin’s homage to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw. Years ago, I visited my great-aunt in her mountaintop summer home in Tennessee. Reading this book unlocked memories of that mysterious house. Good novels tell a particular story—but also may stir up ghosts we have forgotten.

Flora

By Gail Godwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flora as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of the Second World War. At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died. A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories. Flora, her late mother's twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen. Their relationship and its fallout, played…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in haunted houses, girls, and missing persons?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about haunted houses, girls, and missing persons.

Haunted Houses Explore 50 books about haunted houses
Girls Explore 73 books about girls
Missing Persons Explore 179 books about missing persons

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Fun Home, Shuggie Bain, and Winesburg, Ohio if you like this list.