Can I confess to loving this time of year? The crisp air, the colours of the leaves, and the cosy evenings…
Along with the shortening days and darkening skies, this time of year always sees me turn to darker reads- from the beginning of October until Christmas Eve is the season for sinister stories, preferably read from underneath a blanket, by a fire, with a cup of something warming to hand.
At The Willoughby Book Club quite a few of us are partial to the slow creep of dread in our fiction, so here are 25 of our collected favourites. Some are classic tales with all the hallmarks of a traditional ghostly tale, some remind us that true darkness lies within humanity, and maybe we don’t need ghost stories at all.
1- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
2- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
3- The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
4- Slade House by David Mitchell
5- The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The book begins at Christmas time, where Arthur Kripps and his family are sharing Ghost stories. For Arthur, this unwillingly brings back memories of his time as a solicitor when he was sent to decide arrangements for the late Mrs. Drablow and her estate at Eel Marsh.
Arthur’s first mysterious encounter is when he attends the funeral of Mrs. Drablow and notices a woman in black at the back, however no-one else saw her. He then visits her house, a lone building where the mist can become eerily thick and the tide can reappear with little warning. Whilst sorting through paperwork, Arthur hears things he can’t account for and he spots the same lady he saw at the funeral. He also finds a locked door leading to a perfectly intact nursery and decides to unveil the secrets that occurred in this house.
Hill writes as though you are there in the house at Eel Marsh experiencing the same unnerving situation as Arthur. She gently feeds your sense of dread by creating a chilling atmosphere that envelopes your imagination.
6- The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
7- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8- The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
9- Affinity by Sarah Waters
Margaret Prior attends the prison as a charitable duty, and in the course of her work is drawn to one of the inmates, spiritualist Selina Dawes, imprisoned for assault and fraud.
Margaret’s infatuation with Selina grows, recorded in her diary entries, whereas Selina remains enigmatic and unknowable.
This is a deeply atmospheric read that will keep you absorbed until the final denoument.
10- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
11- The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sherlock Holmes
12- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Bored one summer after a house move, Coraline explores the house and grounds, eventually venturing into the room where her grandmother’s furniture is kept. Instead of the usual room, she finds a strange corridor and begins to explore…
What could be a more sinister concept than an Other Mother that looks like yours and talks like yours but with buttons for eyes? A world that is nearly ‘right’ but not quite?
13- The Shining by Stephen King
14- Beloved by Toni Morrison
15- The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
16- The Monkey’s Paw by W W Jacobs
17- This house is Haunted by John Boyne
18- The Ghost Stories of M R James
No list of spooky reads would be complete without M R James. Written to be read aloud to his students, he is truly a master of the form.
Replete with slowly gathering dread, spectral shocks and an all-pervading sense of impeding doom, this is the ultimate collection.
‘Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad’ is one of the scariest short stories I have ever read, causing me to have to hide the book while I recovered. you have been wrned!
19- The Hunger by Alma Katsu
20- The Collector by John Fowles
21- It by Stephen King
22- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Tensions begin to mount as the short Arctic summer wanes, and incidents force expedition members to drop out one by one. Soon Jack is forced to decide whether to stay or leave- knowing that if he stays he will be completely cut off by sea ice and in perpetual darkness., with escape impossible.
And something walks, out there in the darkness…
You’ll find yourself pulling the curtains close as you read this, and being extremely grateful for electric lights as the chill of an Arctic storm and any thing it may contain fills your imagination.
24- The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
25- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
What would you add to this list? Let us know your favourite creepy reads, we’d love to hear from you!