Not just the preserve of Halloween, stories of phantom menaces are ripe for retelling when the nights draw in early. And, maybe it’s because reading is a solitary experience, books carry an added frisson of fear. After all, it’s just you and the figments of your imagination for company. Read on – at your peril – for five of the very best ghost stories…
Set around crumbling stately home Hundreds Hall in post-war Warwickshire, this traditional spooks-appearing-on-the-stairs thriller follows the sensible Dr Faraday as he is summoned to care for one of the household. This Man Booker nominee is expertly drawn and shows off Waters’ impressive horror writing chops. Best of all is the build up; it brews a beast of a story and floods each page with dread. It’s easy to rattle through The Little Stranger in one sitting and find yourself finishing at 2am – just expect your nerves to be in shreds.
It was this 1959 novel that many say set the benchmark for the psychological supernatural genre. Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery – which inspired The Hunger Games – provides us with a familiar but juicy set-up. Led by scientist Dr. Montague, three guests take part in an experiment to stay in a well-known malevolent house. But this is more than just a good old-fashioned door-slamming horror; Jackson leaves us in the company of unreliable narrators and squirrels away at the cracks in the human psyche. Enjoy The Haunting of Hill House at your peril.
On the face of it, Slade House has got the traditional unruly domestic spirits thing going on. But in true David Mitchell style, the story doesn’t abide by the standard ghost story rules. His latest offering, and shortest book to date, centres around Slade House: a mysterious abode that appears every nine years with horrific consequences. Each section is narrated by a different character and showcases Mitchell’s masterful technique at capturing voices, where the accents and time periods seep through the pages. Fans of Mitchell will enjoy references to his other books, and as a standalone it’s a brilliant speedy read. And while Slade House may not make you scream with terror it guarantees to excite your senses all the same.
It’s almost a given that this book was going to make the cut. Having seen Susan Hill’s tale of a vengeful ghost transpire into a long-running theatre production as well as a feature film, it’s no surprise the source material is brimming with nervy, sweaty-palmed action. Set on a remote Scottish house in disrepair, the atmosphere is as thick as the pervasive fog suffocating the house itself and the jumps are aplenty. The Woman in Black carries all the hallmarks of a spooky story, and you’ll never look at a rocking chair in the same way again. You’ve been warned.
If Niffenegger were to sit around a fire telling creepy stories late into the night, these would be on her repertoire. The author of The Time Traveler’s Wife sets the scene with a backstory on each of the tales she has chosen, from old to modern, along with eerie illustrations. She opens with Edgar Allan Poe and cherry-picks from other literary heavyweights including Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse and Neil Gaiman. If this doesn’t satisfy your hunger for a haunting, frankly nothing will.