Spooky season is nearly upon us. Each year, I like to celebrate with spooky books, but not just any. I’m really into literary horror books. Some people really get into gory, bloody affairs. Some want flesh-prickling monsters that look like a cross between a nightmare and the underside of a fallen log. Still others love to have glamorous vampires or hunky werewolves. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but for my money, it’s all about literary horror books.
Perhaps it was my mom raising me on Hardy Boys novels and horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween when I was arguably too young to watch them, but my life-long love of horror had me watching films from The Hills Have Eyes (do not recommend) to The Ring and Audition. I consumed horror books by the stack, honing what I do and don’t like. Eventually this all led me to read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Her seminal book relied on terror, on psychology, and on the tense relationships between characters and the mysterious Hill House to tap into our own innermost fears.
Already read The Haunting of Hill House? Here are eight more literary horror books to claw at the back of your psyche.
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Deenie Nash is a good student. Her family is tight. One day, her best friend is struck down by a seizure. But Deenie’s best friend is only the first. The small town is suddenly in the grip of an inexplicable outbreak, unraveling families, friendships, and the entire town.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The original horror novel is also a literary horror book. This classic story of a scientist who oversteps his bounds and gives life, but then rejects his own creation isn’t just scary. Frankenstein’s monster is a child, wandering alone through the world seeking himself, seeking love, and seeking revenge.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Four American Indian men were involved in a disturbing event when they were young. Now, something is tracking them, trying to kill them. It hunts them in a desperate bid for revenge, bringing along the culture and traditions they left behind. Stephen Graham Jones blends classic horror and biting social commentary into this gem of a novel.
Piercing by Ryu Murakami
Ryu Murakami is the master of Japanese psychological horror. His tales aren’t based in supernatural, but in the horrors we humans inflict on one another. In this novel, Kawashima leans over the bed of his baby’s crib each night, ice pick in hand, barely containing his need to use it. Murakami explores how victims of child abuse are forced to silence and can turn to hurting each other in the most terrible ways.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Set in the early 20th century shortly after The Birth of a Nation sent the Ku Klux Klan’s recruitment numbers soaring, Maryse is a resistance fighter. Maryse uses bullets, bombs, whatever it takes to hunt those in white hoods who hunt them and their people. But something is happening in Macon that promises to escalate the war between the Harlem Hellfighters and the KKK.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Vern, living alone in the forest, gives birth to twins she names Howling and Feral. Now she and her children are being hunted by the cult-like compound from which she fled. Then her body starts to change, she becomes brutal in her fight to protect her small family. In Sorrowland, the monsters are people, communities, and even nations.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This is another classic literary horror book everyone should read. A young woman is hired as a governess for two strange and silent children named Miles and Flora. They live on an estate haunted by evil. Terror creeps along every page of this short novel as the governess starts to realize that the children have no fear of the evils of their home, but rather crave it.
When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson Edited by Ellen Datlow
This seemed like a slam-dunk when I was putting together this list. When stellar authors like Josh Malerman, Stephen Graham Jones, Seanan McGuire, Genevieve Valentine, and many others come together to pay homage to Shirley Jackson, you know you’re getting a literary horror book for the ages.
Want even more Shirley Jackson read-alikes? Try these authors like Shirley Jackson.