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9 best horror books to read for Halloween (if you dare)

From bone-chilling thrillers to grisly tales, you’ll be sleeping with the light on by the end of these

Olivia Campbell
Thursday 20 October 2022 13:01 BST
We looked for stories that left us with a sense of unease after reading – in a good way, of course
We looked for stories that left us with a sense of unease after reading – in a good way, of course (The Independent)
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Since ancient times, people have been scaring the living daylights out of each other with tales of horror and the supernatural.

From tormented spirits to soul-eating demons and everything in between, nearly every culture to have existed has tales designed to spark fear in the hearts of its people.

With this in mind, and the fact that the spooky season is nearly upon us, now is the perfect time to pick up a book that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. To help, we’ve reviewed some of the most chilling tomes to have come from the horror genre.

Our list is by no means exhaustive – there are thousands of excellent novels spanning all sorts of themes and genres (techno-horror or femslash anyone?). There is also plenty of debate about what can be classified as “horror”.

For our purposes, all but one of the books we’ve chosen have some element of the supernatural, whether that be ghosts or witchcraft. We’ve also tried to include books from across the spectrum, to appeal to as many readers as possible. Basically, if the book gave us the creeps, we’ve considered it.

How we tested

Not all horror books are created equal. We’ve flipped through many pages to find books that didn’t rely on tropes and lazy storytelling to do the job, while also keeping us engaged with the plot throughout. But most importantly, we looked for stories we found truly scary, that left us with a sense of unease after reading – in a good way, of course!

The best horror books for 2022 are:

  • Best overall horror book − ‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell, published by Raven Books: £7.64,
  • Best haunted-house horror book − ‘White is For Witching’ by Helen Oyeyemi, published by Picador: £9.99,
  • Best graphic novel horror book − ‘Uzumaki’ by Junji Ito, published by Viz Media Inc: £15.86,
  • Best urban horror book − ‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed’ by Mariana Enriquez, published by Granta Books: £8.99,
  • Best gothic horror book − ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (Penguin Clothbound Classics) by Oscar Wilde, published by Penguin Classics: £13.79,
  • Best children’s horror book − ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman, published by Bloomsbury Publishing:£7.99,
  • Best dark fantasy horror book − ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ by Ray Bradbury, published by Orion Publishing: £8.99,
  • Best for ghost stories − ‘Ghost’ edited by Louise Welsh, published by Head of Zeus: £14.95,
  • Best classic horror book − ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson, published by Penguin Classics: £7.99,

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell, published by Raven Books

The Silent Companions - Laura Purcell.png
  • Best: Overall
  • Pages: 384

Our list begins with Laura Purcell’s haunting work, The Silent Companions. This gorgeously written novel tells the story of The Bridge, a crumbling estate in the countryside that is plagued by wooden figures that resemble the inhabitants. The eerie, and at times, downright horrifying, story is told through three timelines: the newly widowed Elsie in 1865, dairies written at The Bridge during the 17th century and eventually, back to Elsie who is now rendered mute, accused of multiple murders and interred in a psychiatric ward sometime later. All the elements of gothic horror are here – a secluded mansion in the countryside, eternal rain and creepy goings-on – but the book also hints at witchcraft and demonic happenings. While the ending is perhaps a little predictable, Purcell’s gift for creating a stifling atmosphere that slowly builds into something very sinister by the very last page makes this a must-read.

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‘White is For Witching’ by Helen Oyeyemi, published by Picador

White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi.jpg
  • Best: Haunted-house horror book
  • Pages: 256

You might think the haunted-house novel has been done – ahem – to death, but Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is a wonderfully tragic take on the genre. The book begins with a question: where is Miranda? Young Miri – who is suffering from an eating disorder that causes her to literally consume parts of the family home – is missing, and it appears the house, a mysterious dwelling near the cliffs of Dover, might have something to do with it. We witness Miranda’s spiral in graphic detail, from multiple viewpoints, including her twin and the house itself, while the story is made even more chilling by impossible passageways, hints of witchcraft and a house hell-bent on consuming its victim. Oyeyemi is skilled at blending horror and tragedy and definitely a key name in the genre.

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'Uzumaki’ by Junji Ito, published by Viz Media Inc

Uzumaki - Junji Ito.jpg
  • Best: Graphic novel horror book
  • Pages: Not specified

Japanese mangaka Junji Ito, considered to be a master of the macabre and the grotesque, has been scaring people with his creations since 1987. His extensive volume of work often belongs to the abstract horror genre and Uzumaki – essentially his magnum opus – is a perfect introduction to Ito’s bizarre mind. Kurouzu-Cho, a small misty town on Japan’s coast, is cursed, not by the paranormal or by plagues but by spirals instead. The pattern, with its hypnotic swirl, can be found everywhere – from the ripples in the water to the spines of people morphing into twisted mounds of flesh. This beautifully illustrated manga is grotesque, unsettling and, after the town descends into madness, truly horrifying.

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‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed' by Mariana Enriquez, published by Granta Books

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed - Mariana Enriquez.jpg
  • Best: Urban horror book
  • Pages: 208

If the gorgeous cover isn’t enough to give you the creeps, the many twisted tales contained within this book certainly will. Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize, this collection of horror stories explores a nightmarish version of modern-day Buenos Aires through the women that reside there. While fetishes for beating hearts, and madness induced by the ghosts of dead children might not be reality for most, the topics explored by Enriquez here are dark and very much real. It should be noted that, as this book deals with so many real-life horrors – more so than any other book on this list – readers should be careful if they want to avoid certain triggers. If you’re after stories that don’t shy away from the brutalities of urban living – and have the added bonus of being laced with feminism – this is the book for you.

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‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (Penguin Clothbound Classics) by Oscar Wilde, published by Penguin Classics

The Picture of Dorian Grey - Oscar Wilde.jpg
  • Best: Gothic horror book
  • Pages: 252

A classic of the gothic horror genre, Oscar Wilde’s novel was considered so debauched it sent moralistic Victorians into a frenzy and was even used as “evidence” in his 1895 public indecency trial. The Picture of Dorian Gray reveals the terrifying effect greed and vanity can have if allowed to consume a person. The novel tells the story of its titular character who becomes obsessed with his own portrait and sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. One corrupt double life later, in which he indulges in every impulse (immoral or not), only his portrait shows the true evil that lies under Dorian’s flawless exterior. The horror here is very much psychological, but that’s not to say Wilde hasn’t created an eerie study of morality and decadence.

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'Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman, published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Coraline - Neil Gaiman.jpg
  • Best: Children’s horror book
  • Pages: 192

If you’re looking for a way to introduce little ones to the horror genre without traumatising them, Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s novel about parallel worlds and missing children, is a great choice (an excellent one for adults too). The titular character is a young girl who discovers there is another world behind a small door in her house where Other Mother and Other Father live. They have buttons where their eyes should be and want Coraline to be their daughter in their fantastical world. It soon becomes clear she is in grave danger and must use all her wits to escape. If you’ve seen Henry Selick’s 2009 adaptation, you’ll know this is a wonderfully sinister tale involving creepy houses with dark secrets and sinister monsters who steal and eat souls.

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'Something Wicked This Way Comes’ by Ray Bradbury, published by Orion Publishing

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury.jpg
  • Best: Dark fantasy horror book
  • Pages: 288

When it comes to quintessential fantasy horror books, this is high up on the list. When Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in town, malevolent individuals appear and strange happenings occur. After being drawn in by promises of adventure, the two young protagonists, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, must fight Mr Dark and his carnival of mirrored mazes and time-twisting carousels to escape. This wonderfully creepy novel is perfect for the autumn season, and will have you hoping for the circus to come to town.

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‘Ghost’ edited by Louise Welsh, published by Head of Zeus

Ghost - edited by Louise Welsh.jpg
  • Best: For ghost stories
  • Pages: 816

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Individuals who refuse to move on from this world is a classic trope of horror fiction, but that doesn’t mean such tales are boring. This collection of 100 stories will definitely get you in the spirit for tales of disembodied souls. The collection, chosen by award-winning author Louise Welsh, includes everything from ancient tales to Victorian greats to more-modern creations. This is quite a hefty book (coming in at more than 800 pages), so this is more of a read-under-the-covers-in-the-dark sort of thing. The range of authors in this collection is also noteworthy: everyone from Charles Dickens to Hilary Mantel feature, while surprising names such as JG Ballard and Kazuo Ishiguro offer up their best takes on ghostly spectres.

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‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson, published by Penguin Classics

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson.jpg
  • Best: Classic horror book
  • Pages: 158

Shirley Jackson has long been considered a significant voice in the genre ever since the release of her short story, The Lottery, in 1948. However, her final novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle is arguably her masterpiece. Sisters Merricat and Constance live as recluses in the Blackwood family home, the latter having been acquitted of murdering the rest of the family with arsenic. Both live as outcasts in society, with Constance suffering from agoraphobia, which left her unable to leave the house for six years. Jackson made a lasting career from her ghost stories, but the only spectre to be found in her final novel is that of isolation. Whether it’s the house’s smothering emptiness or their estrangement from wider society, the feeling of loneliness is all-encompassing and deeply unsettling.

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The verdict: Horror books

It all depends on what you want from your horror reading – are you looking for supernatural elements? Are you more interested in the themes being discussed in the story? Are you looking for things outside the box? While we’d recommend every book in this list, The Silent Companions is likely to tick most people’s boxes – it’s got horror, emotion and beautifully written prose (not to mention the stunning cover). For something a bit different, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is an excellent choice. Finally, if you’re someone who wants all the horror stories you can get your hands on, then Ghost, simply for the sheer number of its pages, is a top choice.

Need help choosing your next read? Take inspiration from the Booker Prize shortlist or the Women’s Prize for Fiction

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