I love a good scare, but the best horror novels don’t just provide frights, they also comment on society or maybe riff on tried-and-true tropes. With that in mind, I’ve assembled a list of must-read horror novels past and present that take on the genre in different ways. Some are just plain scary, while others use their ghosts and ghouls as symbols of real-life horrors. These’s something here for just about anyone, so take a look! To give you some idea of what kind of horror you’ll encounter, I’ve included descriptions from Goodreads for this list of best horror novels.
If you want still more frights, be sure to check out our list of Must-Read Contemporary Horror Novels.
AFFINITY BY SARAH WATERS
“Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.”
AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS BY H.P. LOVECRAFT
“The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries—and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization—is a milestone of macabre literature.”
AUDITION BY RYU MURAKAMI
“When his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami…But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late.”
THE BAD SEED BY WILLIAM MARCH
“What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William March’s classic thriller.”
BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON
“Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free…Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. ”
THE BETWEEN BY TANANARIVE DUE
“When Hilton was just a boy, his aged grandmother saved him from drowning by pulling him out of a treacherous ocean current, sacrificing her life for his. Now, thirty years later, Hilton begins to think his borrowed time is running out.”