Suspense Novel Recommendations
October 30, 2004 12:55 PM   Subscribe

The lights along the dim hallway flickered as she walked toward the door at the end. The floor of the old house creaked underneath her webbed feet, but otherwise all was still. Until she heard the sound of footsteps behind her, and she turned and saw.... I love ghost stories. Can any of you recommend some good ones? To give you some idea of what I would like, I loved Edith Wharton's creepy tales and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, but I'll pass on any more Stephen King or Peter Straub. I want good writing, subtlety, suspense, and enough thrills and chills to scare the feathers right off me.
posted by orange swan to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I can't really make any recommendations that directly answer your requirements but you might like these.

The Edward Gorey–edited collection The Haunted Looking Glass has some good stories, but they aren't really scary (though "August Heat" sets the mood pretty well).

Robertson Davies has a book of jokey ghost stories called High Spirits. Some of Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales have a ghost-story-like flavor, but they aren't really ghost stories (and aren't really scary either), though you'll definitely get good writing from them and they're good. You might like other things by Jackson, like We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I'm told E.T.A. Hoffman and Kleist have good scary stories but I don't know them.
posted by kenko at 1:24 PM on October 30, 2004

The Turn of the Screw! If you haven't read it.
posted by josh at 1:32 PM on October 30, 2004

The only book that has ever actually startled me, I mean actually adrenaline-rushed, is Orson Scott Card's Treasure Box. For spookiness, though, I recommend his Lost Boys -- although nothing much seems to happen for the first three quarters of the novel, it's all set-up for the ending, which is creepy (and sad) as hell.
posted by kindall at 2:26 PM on October 30, 2004

I LOVE Edith Warton, but I didn't know she'd written any scary/ghost stories. Which stories are they, orange swan?

I second the recommendation of "Turn of the Screw", which is by Henry James, who was one of Edith Warton's best friends. I think it's best ghost story ever written.

There's a wonderful film adaptation of it, called "The Innocents." Truman Capote wrote the screenplay.
posted by grumblebee at 2:34 PM on October 30, 2004

Early King is worth it - for sheer keep-the-light-on scariness, the vampires in Salem's Lot do it for me every time.

The Monkey's Paw, of course.

Lots of classics online here.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:44 PM on October 30, 2004

"The Monkey's Paw" is in that Gorey collection. Cunninglinguist, whoever compiled that list must not have been very familiar with some of the books ... "The Devil's Dictionary"?
posted by kenko at 4:25 PM on October 30, 2004

Response by poster: Grumblebee, the book I read was called, evocatively enough, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton and it's some damn fine reading. Wharton was a very prolific author and I wouldn't be surprised to hear she'd written more ghost stories than were in that book.

I own and love Davies' High Spirits and James' The Turn of the Screw.

I'll have to check out some of these others. Duh me, for not checking to see if Shirley Jackson had written anything else.
posted by orange swan at 5:50 PM on October 30, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and to give back a little, I also loved The Oxford Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories. I've also placed a hold on The Oxford Book of Canadian Ghost Stories (which, incidentally, was compiled by an editor with whom I have a long-standing professional association) at the Toronto Public Library, but I have my suspicions that he might have had to scrape the bottom of the maple syrup keg to get enough stories for that one.
posted by orange swan at 5:59 PM on October 30, 2004

Try the ghost stories Le Fanu, which are excellent. Though forgotten now, he was quite famous in the Victorian era.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 6:08 PM on October 30, 2004

er, the ghost stories of Le Fanu
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 6:09 PM on October 30, 2004

Try "The Search For Joseph Tully" by William H. Hallahan.

If you can find a second hand copy that is, I think it might be out of print.
posted by lucien at 1:11 AM on October 31, 2004 [1 favorite]

Le Fanu is very good, but in my opinion M.R. James is the master. I love his style of Gothic striptease -- "let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage", his formula for a good ghost-story -- so much more effective than full-frontal Grand Guignol.

Novels in the M.R. James tradition: one of my favourites is J. Meade Falkner's The Lost Stradivarius, a story of diabolic possession. Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors is not, strictly speaking, a ghost story, more a horror story in the Jekyll-and-Hyde tradition, but has the same don't-want-to-turn-the-lights-off-after-you've-read-it effect that you get with the best of M.R. James. And I also have a soft spot for Kingsley Amis's The Green Man, a homage to MRJ, but updated to the 1970s, with adultery, alcoholism and middle-age terror of death.

You might want to check out the website of the Ash-Tree Press, who speclalise in 'quality supernatural fiction', including a lot of classic reprints.
posted by verstegan at 1:13 AM on October 31, 2004 [2 favorites]

Not supernatural-creepy, but totally haunting is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper short story. I've had that wallpaper in my head ever since I read the story about 20 years ago...
posted by taz at 3:04 AM on October 31, 2004

It sounds like you and I have the same taste. I have a heck of a time finding a good ghostly tale. I have recently enjoyed:
  • Haunted by Tamara Thorne (may be a little gory--ghosts of killers and all--but I liked it well enough to buy more of her stuff)
  • Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson
  • The Awakening by Dana Boyd (this was the loveliest ghost story I'd read in a while, but not uber scary)
  • Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
  • A Face at The Window by Dennis McFarland
  • A Room for The Dead by Noel Hynd (again with the killer ghostie, though)
While I have also tired of King, Bag of Bones was as classic a ghost story as they come.

I also concur with everyone who has recommended MR James, and if you can find a book of Victorian ghost stories like this one, they are great fun.
posted by frykitty at 11:27 AM on October 31, 2004

People with tastes for classy ghost stories will surely love "The Weir." It's a play. If a good production comes to your town, see it. But the script is a great read.
posted by grumblebee at 2:33 PM on October 31, 2004

I loved Richard Matheson's Hell House
posted by GeekAnimator at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2004

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