Top Ten Horror Novels


  1. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski. A labyrinthine work which never quite seems to give up all of its secrets: it engulfs you as you read it, shadowing your safety, and it’s a must for any horror fan.
  2. Night Film – Marisha Pessl. This reminds me in many ways of House of Leaves: like Danielewski, it refuses to give up its secrets all at once, and it does some playing with textual sources, adding mocked-up website pages and police forms to the main narrative. But it also has a spooky bagginess all its own.
  3. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley. “Is Frankenstein a horror novel?” Well, it has scientific experiments gone ‘orribly wrong, Arctic wastes filled with unknown and shadowy shapes, and wedding-night murders, so I’m going to go with “yes”. It’s intelligent horror, too, horror with a social conscience, and what more can you ask for really.
  4. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. Set in the vast and rambling and ever-changing castle of Gormenghast, Titus Groan is really a tale of entrapment: entrapment that its inhabitants don’t even quite realise is happening. It’s fantastic.
  5. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. A twisted tale of jealousy and patriarchy and obsession.
  6. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman. To be honest, you could read this dark fantasy for its art alone: the darkness of a suburban house is rendered with the same lavish, nightmarish hyperreality as the vistas of Hell.
  7. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe. A Regency Gothic novel, and one much sneered at by critics who have in many cases never read it. I always call it “hypnotic”: lush and dreamy prose that carries you, all unknowing, into nightmare, and you don’t realise until it’s too late.
  8. The Haunter of the Dark – H.P. Lovecraft. A warning: Lovecraft is a fucking racist, there’s simply no other way to describe him, and there’s a whole debate that can be had as to whether you can excuse some of his racism as being a product of its time (no) and whether his racism means we should stop reading him (also, probably, no). But he really has a monopoly on the whole “cosmic horror” thing, and without him today’s SFF scene just wouldn’t look the same.
  9. Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov. I might be stretching the definition of “horror” here, but Pale Fire is definitely a book imbued with the horrific. An academic writes a commentary on a long narrative poem by someone who has recently died; but his commentary begins to spiral out of control, revealing some dark truths.
  10. The Chimes – Charles Dickens. The Chimes has goblins living in church bells. It is seriously fucked up and weird in a quintessentially Dickensian sort of way.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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