We might only be a week into September, but let’s be honest – it’s never too early to begin embracing the Halloween spirit. And one of my resolutions for the new season: read more horror by women.
While my list of favorites is still ever expanding, here are a few spine-tinglingly spooky reads to get started. All synopses are borrowed from Amazon.
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is perhaps the queen of horror and The Haunting of Hill House is arguably one of her spookiest novels. Her novels We Have Always Lived in the Castleand Hangsaman are also notable mentions, but this classic haunted house story takes the cake.
The Haunting of Hill House is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Okay, so it’s not a novel, but this book of tales is delightfully chilling and incredibly gorgeous. Which is why it’s earned a spot on this list! This book puts new twists on old tales to make them much more frightening than I’d ever remembered them, reinventing “Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Blue Beard” to name a few and inventing some new ones along the way. First published in 1979, this literary gem has inspired countless writer that have come since.
Another notable mention – if you liked The Bloody Chamber, check out Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt! Angela Carter is also the author of another one of our favorite’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.
3. What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
This book might not be the spookiest on the list, but I can’t recommend it enough. Debut novel by Julia Fine, What Should Be Wild is easily a new favorite of mine and while it’s not strictly scary, it’s a whimsical story that embraces all kinds of horror.
The synopsis, courtesy of Amazon: It’s the story of a highly unusual young woman who must venture into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia.
Additional books we love include The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell and Swamplandia! also by Karen Russell.
4. Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Before it was the movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, Woman in Black was a book by Susan Hill, and just one of her many notable ghost stories.
Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.
5. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This one is a favorite at the moment, and kind of a hot book since it was a Finalist for a National Book Award last year. And what’s more exciting, it’s currently in-development to become an anthology TV series!
In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
6. Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is incredibly prolific and while not every book of hers is steeped in horror, she actually has a collection of novels that are referred to as “The Gothic Saga” – the first of which is Bellefleur which is incredibly gothic and eerie! It’s sure to get any reader in the mood for halloween.
A wealthy and notorious clan, the Bellefleurs live in a region not unlike the Adirondacks, in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythic Lake Noir. They own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires, a mass murderer, a spiritual seeker who climbs into the mountains looking for God, a wealthy noctambulist who dies of a chicken scratch.
7. The Phantom Lover by Vernon Lee (Violet Paget)
So this one’s not exactly new… quite the opposite, but it was new to me when I set out to find more horror written by women and it’s a delightfully quick and spooky read.
A Phantom Lover is a supernatural novella by Vernon Lee (pseudonym of Violet Paget) first published in 1886. Set in a Kentish manor house, the story concerns a portrait painter commissioned by a squire, William Oke, to produce portraits of him and his wife, the eccentric Mrs. Alice Oke, who bears a striking resemblance to a woman in a mysterious, seventeenth century painting.
Additional Moon Bird favorites for gothic fiction include the novels of Ann Radcliffe.
8. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler may be “The Grand Dame of Science Fiction” but like another one of the greats on our list, Mary Shelley, her work sometimes transcends just the one genre. Wild Seed ranks as one of the current favorite haunting novels among my friends over at Moon-birds. We also like Blood Child and Other Stories.
Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals.
9. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Broken Monsters is very, very twisted and incredibly spooky. While it’s marketed more as a thriller than an outright horror novel, it’s not really a whodunnit, but a book where you hope and pray your favorite characters make it out alive. It’s gruesome to the point where the cover’s been made overly vague after a few more revealing covers were pointed rejected prior to publication.
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.
Other twisted thrillers we love lately include Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn.
10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Where would horror be without Frankenstein? This is a timeless classic and beloved favorite for me and probably also for most women who aspire to write horror. For super-fans out there Penguin released Frankenstein: The 1818 Text – which includes the unedited voice of the author herself.
Few creatures of horror have seized readers’ imaginations and held them for so long as the anguished monster of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story of Victor Frankenstein’s terrible creation and the havoc it caused has enthralled generations of readers and inspired countless writers of horror and suspense.
While there’s nothing quite like Frankenstein, fans may also enjoy the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell.
11. Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
This collection by Argentinean author, Silvina Ocampo, is haunting. It’s loaded with eerie tales that twist the everyday into full-blown horror.
Thus Were Their Faces offers a comprehensive selection of the short fiction of Silvina Ocampo, undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the story and the novella. Here are tales of doubles and impostors, angels and demons, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks, a beautiful seer who writes the autobiography of her own death, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman, a suicidal romance, and much else that is incredible, mad, sublime, and delicious.
If you enjoy Thus Were Their Faces, be sure to check out The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington and The Children by Carolina Sanín.
12. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Rebecca, first published in 1938, is a classic that is haunting to say the least. It’s a must-read, for Halloween or any other time of the year.
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
For more Daphne du Maurier, check out her collection of stories Don’t Look Now – which includes a short piece that inspired Hitchcock’s The Birds.
13. The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
Finishing off this list with one final haunting tale – The Graveyard Apartment!
Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the suspenseful tale of a young family that believes it has found the perfect home to grow into, only to realize that the apartment’s idyllic setting harbors the specter of evil and that longer they stay, the more trapped they become.
This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.
Our additional honorable mentions include Now You’re One of Usand Body both by Asa Nonami.
That wraps up our list of 13 haunting reads for now. This article was originally written by me, but first published on Moon-Birds, a haven for spooky ladies who write.