We know some of our favourite books can provide a powerful, moving experience that transport us into the lives of the world’s most beloved fictional characters. While usually when it comes to escaping in a novel we look to romances—from classics like Pride & Prejudice to modern tales like Sally Rooney’s Normal People—when the spooky season arrives in November, horror novels finally get the respect they deserve.
From psychological thrillers to ghost stories, some horror novels are so terrifying they leave us sleeping with the lights on (and stashing the book somewhere it can’t find us). In honour of Halloween, we’ve rounded up 10 frightening novels to read this spooky season.
Be warned, after reading some of these chilling novels you may be ordering a nightlight.
The Haunting Of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
If you devoured Netflix’s thriller The Haunting Of Hill House, add Shirley Jackson’s iconic gothic novel on which the series was based on your to-do list. Considered one of the best literary ghost stories ever published, the 1959 gothic novel follows a parapsychologist looking for proof of the supernatural, taking a group of volunteers for a stay in the eery Hill House, a creaky old mansion with a tragic history. Suspense and plenty of scares ensue.
Carrie, Stephen King
No literary horror list would be complete without Stephen King, and honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint which novel is the author’s most terrifying. But, of those sits Carrie, a story revolving around Carrie White, an unpopular teenager from an abusive religious household who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. The book is so terrifying, in fact, it is one of the most frequently banned books in schools. Once you’ve managed to get through the King classic, the film adaptation starring Chloë Moretz will be sure to keep your spook-fest going.
Ring, Kōji Suzuki
The movie that inspired those horror films of the same name, the premise of this novel is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. It follows journalist Asakawa and his investigation into the tape, resulting in an incredibly twisting backstory involving a forgotten well. The chillingly told horror story is a masterfully suspenseful mystery, but fair warning, you’ll be sleeping with the lights on after this one.
The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
Often times, the scariest of tales are ones based on real events—which is why Ketchum’s 1989 Girl Next Door is so terrifying. The disturbing novel details the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons. Loosley based on the 1965 murder of Sylvia Likens, the book’s exploration of human depravity is what makes it truly shocking.
Pretty Girls, Karen Slaughter
No other novel will have you as horrified, heartbroken, and terrified with just one flip of the page than that of Karen Slaughter’s Pretty Girls. The novel follows sisters Claire and Lydia, who have not spoken in the twenty years since their teenage sister Julia mysteriously vanished. Claire, the glamorous trophy wife, and Lydia, the single mother dating an ex-con, are forced to reconnect when yet another heartbreak intertwines them.
The Fall Of The House Usher, Edgar Allan Poe
We’ll forgive you for sleeping on this terrifying read in school, but it’s an absolute must for those wanting a good scare. Because, after all, nobody does horror better than that of Edgar Allan Poe. The novel follows an unnamed narrator who approaches the house of Usher—the estate of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher—resulting in a tale of madness, family and isolation.
Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott
Madigan Mine, the debut novel from Australian author Kirstyn McDermott, is a gripping tale of psychological disintegration, dealing with grief and obsession, while expertly exploring how love can be used against someone. It follows Alex and his childhood sweetheart Madigan, who is both “beautiful and impulsive”, while hiding a dangerous side. You’ll be so gripped by this haunting tale, you won’t be able to put it down.
The Other, Thomas Tryon
Published in 1971, Thomas Tryon’s legendary psychological horror story remains a classic decades later. Disturbing and evocative, the novel transports readers back to 1935 where twin boys with a deranged relationship roam an idyllic New England town. Truly terrifying!
Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes
If Lauren Beukes’ best-selling debut novel The Shining Girls was a thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller. It follows Detective Gabriella Versado, who finds a unique body that is half-boy, half-deer somehow fused together. As the case progresses, more bizarre corpses begin turning up in unusual places. Yes, if you love True Detective and Hannibal, this gripping tale is right up your alley.
PEST, Anna Willett
A truly nightmare-inducing tale, Anna Willett’s PEST is set on the outskirts of a small Australian town of Thorn Tree, where sightings of a strange girl begin to coincide with a deadly sickness. The girl appears in people’s nightmares, beckoning them into nothingness. Told you, the stuff of nightmares!