Lauren Oliver, best known for her Delirium series, makes her adult debut with the stand-out Rooms, a creepy ghost story and domestic family drama rolled into one. Just in time for Halloween, Oliver picked 10 of her favorite ghost stories.
I love a good ghost story. It’s not just about being frightened--great ghost stories exist right on the border of real and imagined, possible and perceived, fiction and experience. They play on one of the most fundamental questions we, as humans, ask ourselves--what happens next?--and use for their narrative arsenal the simplest tools: creaks and moans, shadows flitting on the walls, inexplicable sounds. The books on this list, arranged in no particular order, range from the psychologically complex to the patently terrifying, and all are worth a read.
1. The Shining by Stephen King - No list of great ghost stories is complete without this work from the master of horror himself. People who’ve only seen the movie are missing out. The book is by far the more fascinating, complicated, and yes, abjectly terrifying, version.
2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson - I am a huge Shirley Jackson fan. Although her novel We Have Always Lived in The Castle isn’t a ghost story in the true sense of the term, in remains for me one of the most haunting and suspenseful books I’ve ever read. The Haunting of Hill House is, as the title suggests, a more traditional ghost story. Be warned: as the story progresses, you will find yourself whimpering.
3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - What I love about this book is its expert use of ambiguities: It’s not clear, throughout much of the story, exactly what is happening. But the facts are these: a new governess arrives at the house of a wealthy family in barren, wind-swept England…and things begin to go south. Ultimately the best part about this book is its exploration of the dark side of the human psyche.
4. Ghost Story by Peter Straub - Stephen King himself is a great fan of this layered horror novel, which uses ghost stories as a central device. A group of friends gather to tell each other terrifying tales…but one of them happens to be all too true. Bonus for its use of a lesser known and especially terrifying kind of spirit.
5. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - Borrowing heavily in tradition and tone from the great gothic novels, Hill’s novel, like The Turn of the Screw, begins with a narrative: a man named Kipps tells the story of a strange and secluded house and the woman who haunted it, presaging the death of children. Deliciously creepy, and subsequently made into a good movie.
6. Ligeia Edgar Allen Poe - Hell hath no fury like a woman dead, as this story about a woman who returns to haunt her beloved in the form of his new wife proves all too well.
7. “A Warning to the Curious” by M. R. James - Through a multi-layered narrative, James tells the story of Paxton, who unearths one of the lost crowns of Anglia and is, as a result, stalked to the point of despair by an unseen supernatural presence. Without giving away any spoilers, the lesson is clear: let sleeping dogs (and spirits) lie.
8. “The Monkey’s Paw” W. W. Jacobs - One of the neatest, most concise, and chilling stories ever written, The Monkey’s Paw isn’t exactly a ghost story…though it does definitely deal with the dear-departed. When a couple come into possession of a monkey’s paw, supposedly a magical relic able to grant three wishes, they will soon discover the true meaning of the old adage: be careful what you wish for.
9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - This seminal and beloved novel proves that visitors from the other side don’t merely come to torment and harangue--sometimes, they come to torment, harangue, and help. The scariest person in this story is the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is transformed over the course of this story thanks to his visit by the ghosts of Christmases Presents, Past, and Yet to Come.
10. “The Overcoat,” by Nicolai Gogol - “The Overcoat” is not a traditional ghost story, in that it only truly becomes a ghost story at the very end--and, far from being afraid of the ghost, we actually sympathize with him. The unfortunate Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, protagonist of the story, just wants a new overcoat--and when his new coat is stolen and Bashmachkin is foiled in his attempts to recuperate it, the unhappy man will let nothing, not even death, stop him from getting his revenge.