Okay, I lied about the 13 part – there’s actually only 5. Because on a night like tonight, nothing is as it seems….*cue creepy music*. Anyway, what this post lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality, because this is a carefully curated collection of the best scary stories to get you in the mood for fright night. Best read after dark, in the middle of a thunderstorm, in an old house with creaky floorboards and unpredictable wiring. Spooky satisfaction guaranteed.
1. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – M. R. James.
You can’t talk about ghost stories without talking about M.R. James. The classic Victorian spooky tale is defined here, with the sense that the past is never quite done with, and could return at any moment with murderous intent. Plus these collected short stories are much more accessible than weightier classics like Dracula or Frankenstein. O whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad is a great starting point. And if you like The Tractate Middoth, you might want to dig out the rather good BBC adaptation that came out last Christmas. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, light up your pipe* and dive in.
2. The Woman in Black – Susan Hill.
I’ve seen the stage version in the West End no less than three times, and I still get shivers down my spine. They use a minimal set and plentiful sound effects, and let your mind fill in the details of the barren marsh, a crumbling gothic edifice, and a shadowy figure lurking just on the edge of your vision. Except, wait – I’m not sure I imagined her…The Daniel Radcliffe outing for the big screen is also worth a watch, although let down by a ‘blah’ finale. For best results, go back to the source text, and be prepared for a few sleepless nights.
3. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski.
Okay, so Marky Z. has made a name for himself as a dahling of the more pretentious literature lover, and you might be a little tired of his need to reinvent the wheel. But there’s a reason this book made such a splash, and it goes beyond experimental forms and wacky typesetting. The narrative threads can be hard to hang on to at times, but they’ll pull you into their oppressive labyrinth until you feel your sense of reality start to warp around the edges. It’s the only book that can make you afraid to look in your closet in case there’s nothing there.
4. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova.
Alright, you’re over vampires. Everyone’s over vampires – the minute Stephanie Whatsherface and Robert ‘Two Expressions’ Pattison got their fangs into the genre, there was no bringing it back to life. But before vampires were sparkly, back when they were still scary but kind of sexy, this smart book took us on a desperate mission into the dark heart of Eastern Europe to defeat an ancient evil. And there wasn’t a werewolf in sight.
5. The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters.
Disclaimer: this book features no girl-on-girl action whatsoever. Not even a little bit. Because Sarah Waters is so much more than just a ‘writer of lesbian fiction’ or even a ‘lesbian fiction writer’. Her skill was evident in her earlier work, but for me, this book proved without doubt that her talent transcends lazy publishing industry labels. The Little Stranger has the trappings of the conventional ghost story: a big house with a tragic past and a family bound together by unhappiness and secrets, watching their way of life fade into history. But though the supernatural elements will send a shiver down your spine, it’s the human frailties at the heart of it all that are truly disturbing. And the final lines deliver a devastating blow.
*For tobacco, like a proper Victorian gentleman. Obviously. Behave, you lot.