In the age of hyper realistic horror VR games and films, it’s hard to believe that books still have the power to evoke fear in us through words alone.
While writing a good novel is already hard enough, a select group of skilled writers can transport readers into the nightmares they have created on the page using only their imagination and wordcraft. Here are three horror books that have withstood the test of time and guarantee to entertain through multiple readings.
The classic: “The Haunting of Hill House”
Starting with a classic horror novel from the end of the 1950s, Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” is a timeless horror story that inspired a Netflix spin-off loosely based on the characters and house. Readers should expect a different story than the show but will find themselves questioning why the Netflix writers decided to stray away from the original tale.
Weighing in at 180 pages, the book is a fast read and will quickly become a lifelong favorite to re-read again and again. This novel will provide hours of entertainment for horror fans without the long commitment most horror novels require. For writers, Jackson’s book is a crash course in evocative imagery.
From its opening paragraph, Jackson delivers beautiful prose and an enticing story following Eleanor Vance, a mid-20s woman trying to come to terms with the recent death of her abusive mother. Hoping for an escape, she receives a mysterious invitation from Dr. Montague, who is conducting paranormal research at the infamous Hill House. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to escape her overbearing sister, Vance steals her sister’s car and drives off to face her new adventure.
As Jackson takes her readers along through twists and turns, her descriptions and dialogue arouse the perfect emotions to enjoy this horror classic. For those that prefer the audiobook, Bernadette Dunne’s narration adds a new level to the scares without detracting from the story.
Better than the movie: “Pet Sematary”
One of the most insufferable characteristics of avid readers is the ability to interject “the book was way better” at the worst possible times. Unfortunately, I will have to fulfill this stereotype because the erroneous late-’80s atrocity that Hollywood produced doesn’t come close to one of Stephen King’s most treasured novels.
“Pet Sematary” was the first King novel I ever read, and to this day, I am impressed with his ability to create a suspenseful environment through writing alone. King’s slow-burn style builds the suspense through each chapter, sucking the reader into his narrative down to the very last lines of the novel. Holding up to the test of time, “Pet Sematary” still delivers the same scares it has provided its readers for almost four decades.
Without the gore typical of King’s novels, this novel follows a Chicago family that hopes to escape the commotion of the city for the quiet country life. Dr. Louis Creed and his wife Rachel have just moved into the house of their dreams with their two children, Gage and Ellie, and their pet cat, Church. A pet cemetery in the woods behind their house is where the town’s citizens have buried their pets for generations. However, the real danger lurks deeper in the woods where an older burial ground lies, offering the family unnatural promises at a vicious price.
If you haven’t already watched the 1989 movie or the 2019 show, trust me and read the book first. The movie tells the same story, but you will miss out on the true experience that only the King of Horror can provide. This book isn’t long, and the 374 pages go by fast when you’re locked into King’s seasoned storytelling. This book will become a lifelong favorite and make you understand why the book is always better.
The future hall of fame: “House of Leaves”
Few words can encompass how it feels to read “House of Leaves,” but nightmarish, unsettling and enticing begin to describe the experience. Unlike other books that use their prose and scene setting to elicit their reader’s emotions, Mark Danielewski’s masterpiece forces its readers to engage with the story physically, bringing them into the fold of his disturbing story.
The book tells a story within a story as you follow the main protagonist and tattoo artist, Johnny Turant. He avoids the dark forces that pursue him after finding a manuscript in his recently deceased neighbor’s apartment. The manuscript tells the story of a family whose new house has a closet that seems to lead to an endless hallway of doors. As the family begins exploring the hallway, they find that their house has a plan of its own.
While the manuscript’s story fills most of the book, Turant’s story interjects throughout, showing a troubled character whose fate begins to mirror the families of the manuscript he becomes obsessed with.
Danielewski’s creative structure adds to the book’s experience, adding to the discomfort and unease the story provides. Changing font types with scattered markups and notes makes the reader feel like they are holding the manuscript in question.
With 528 pages of story and 177 pages of additional exhibits, “House of Leaves” promises its readers not just a good story but an authentic horror experience as the lines between story and reality combine to create one truly memorable experience. Unfortunately, the book has a slow start, and some sections read like an economics textbook. Still, if the reader can persevere, this book will provide an unfathomable experience that will leave you scouring the internet for answers.