As the leaves fall and pumpkins begin to pop up on porches, is there anything more Halloweeny than haunted houses? Literature is full of abodes fit for the damned, from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” to the eerie seaside dwellings in Michael McDowell’s “The Elementals.” But to keep things a bit fresh, we decided to focus on unusual hauntings. Venture with us inside — if you dare!
Silvia: Old houses are a prime location for hauntings. Stephen King turned this around with “The Shining” by offering us not a haunted house, but a whole hotel. Alma Katsu’s “The Deep” also offers something other than the usual old house: It’s a ship, specifically, the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, that has been converted into a hospital ship during World War I. Annie, a woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic and spent years in a mental institution, heads on an ocean voyage. Sooner than you can say “seance,” people are trying to talk to ghosts — and maybe this ship is also doomed.
Lavie: One book I love is “The Way Inn,” by Will Wiles, which starts in one genre only to become another. It begins as a J.G. Ballard-like comedy: A man lives his life in the same multinational, interchangeable hotel chain, moving from one convention or conference to another as a professional “surrogate.” Wiles — an architecture journalist — does an incredible job of picking up little details and the mundane horror of modern life. But then the book takes a sharp turn, and we realize the hotel chain is far weirder than we first thought. A more depressing, if immersive, read is Dan Simmons’s “The Terror,” about a lost expedition to the Arctic Circle being haunted by a creature, as the stranded sailors slowly succumb to illness, madness and death. Based on the real Franklin expedition, the claustrophobia is palpable. Another very fine writer of unsettling fiction is Swedish author Karin Tidbeck. “Jagannath” collects some of her weird fiction works in an English translation, including the fantastic “Brita’s Holiday Village,” in which a whole village acts as a sort of haunted house. Tidbeck really channels Shirley Jackson in places.
Since we already mentioned Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” I’d like to shout out for her “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” in which the house is both the site of a murder and a possible prison for its main protagonist — or is it? While I’m banging the drum for Jackson, let me recommend “Just an Ordinary Day,” a posthumous collection of previously unpublished and uncollected short stories, which is fascinating and a reminder of just how great a writer she was.
Silvia: If you want to learn more about Jackson and the literary scene of her time, you can’t beat “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life,” by Ruth Franklin. Talking about writers and their circles, one of the most curious stories of a haunting must be “Our Lady of Darkness” by Fritz Leiber. It’s a delight for any literary aficionado, since it mentions a number of real authors, all coalescing around the figure of a mysterious occultist who once roamed San Francisco. It’s spooky and unnerving, as the protagonist begins to feel the modern city streets are haunted by strange creatures called paramental entities, and one of them might be after him. Craig Laurance Gidney’s “A Spectral Hue” also mixes art and a haunting, this time at an African American artists’ colony, and “Experimental Film,” by Gemma Files, deals with a mysterious, possibly cursed movie. Files’s catalogue, which has been, for a long time, difficult to acquire and confined to the small-press circuit, is being rereleased by Open Road Media, so let’s hope she gets more exposure.
Continuing with odd hauntings but this time in Japan, in Junji Ito’s “Uzumaki,” it’s not a single dwelling but a whole town that seems to be haunted not by a ghost but by a very mundane-sounding element: a spiral pattern, which reoccurs in gruesome and unexpected ways. Finally, “Horrorstör,” by Grady Hendrix, is a horror-comedy that gives us, yes, a haunted IKEA where employees can’t find their way around the store at night, and someone seems to be rearranging the furniture worse than the ghosts in “Poltergeist.”
Lavie: I can’t resist mentioning British cult classic “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” in which the eponymous author (“visionary . . . plus actor”) had created a (faux) ’80s horror show so daring and “so radical!” that it was shelved for 20 years. Set in “Darkplace Hospital,” this is a masterpiece of the absurd and pokes loving fun at horror writers and bad TV both. The episode about the eyeball child alone will haunt your dreams, as will Marenghi’s readings from his many novels. And yes, it’s a TV show and not a book, but this is one haunted pumpkin you’d want to put in your pie!
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of “Mexican Gothic,” “Gods of Jade and Shadow” and “Signal to Noise.” Lavie Tidhar is the author of several novels, including “The Violent Century,” “A Man Lies Dreaming,” “Central Station” and, most recently, “By Force Alone.”
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