It wasn’t until midway through revising the novel I’m writing that I realized I was writing a ghost story. It’s an interesting moment when you give up control of something you’re making and instead become its servant, helping it become what it needs to become. The trick, I think, is to stay out of its way.

I spent the summer reading some touchstones of horror: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Koji Suzuki’s The Ring, Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, and most recently, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Hill House, famously “not sane,” bothers the soul because Jackson describes the perception of horror, not the horror itself:

[The house] had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length.

We’re left to imagine what these walls might look like. Later, a woman turns and sees something, then screams to her companion, “Don’t look back—don’t look—run!” Another character struggles with her bedroom door but is “unable to open it against the volume of noise outside.” The fear is vivid; the causes remain unknown.

Early in the story, a professor ruminates about our need for explanations. “People are always so anxious to get things out into the open,” he says, “where they can put a name to them, even a meaningless name, so long as it has something of a scientific ring.” Jackson trusts that our imaginations are far more wicked than anything she might describe, and she creates the conditions for these imaginings to fester into something genuinely horrifying because they cannot be named.

Ghost-wise, I’m not sure where to go after Jackson. Any recommendations for novels that deal with hauntings would be much appreciated.

Ectomorph – The Haunting

Abstraction | Interdimensional Transmissions, 1997 | More
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Dawn Watson
Dawn Watson
2 months ago

Shirley Jackson is the queen. Her tiny short story ‘The Witch’ is very unnerving. A few other haunting books I like are Ghost Story by Peter Straub, Hell House by Richard Matheson, and The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. The original book version of The Amityville Horror is an old, very scary classic. I’d also really recommend the book Will Storr vs the Supernatural if you haven’t read it — written by a “skeptic”, but really unsettling. The short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore is also really a great one: like The Haunting of Hill House, it aligns with mental health.

Dawn Watson
Dawn Watson
2 months ago
Reply to  Dawn Watson

PS Good luck with the book, keep going.


[…] He gently closes the crypt so as not to disturb her sleep and returns to his suburban home for another bout of rumination while the monsters beat at his shutters. I think the story is so durable—and haunting—because Matheson’s prose rides an uncanny line between psychological interiority and clinical detachment. (The precision of his writing in Legend is a million miles from Hell House, another horror landmark he wrote seventeen years later, and reads like something blurted out on a bender during a botched attempt to plagiarize Shirley Jackson.) […]

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