A haunted house doesn’t necessarily need a ghost, a demon, or some other restless spirit to be scary. In Carment Laforet’s novel Nada, the house into which the protagonist moves is cluttered to an unreal extent, with members of her extended family stewing over old grudges and a general sense of ruin and stagnation. Mysterious sounds resound through the space, as though the sublimated emotions of the house’s residents have taken up refuge in the walls. And given that Nada is set during the Spanish Civil War, leaving the house provides little respite.
Why do stories set in haunted houses get under our skin so much? There’s an amazing sense of dread that can emerge from the narrative revelation that a house—ostensibly the source of shelter and a sense of home—has a more malicious agenda. (The same can be true for other buildings that occupy a similar function in our lives: charge somewhere familiar and stable with unruly and menacing aspects, and you have a recipe for a harrowing narrative.)
This can take many forms in fiction, from the mounting sense of the uncanny that amasses in novels like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to the surreal threat in the likes of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Kathryn Davis’s Hell. (Those seeking a look at the nonfictional roots of haunted places would do well to check out Colin Dickey’s excellent Ghostland.) Here’s a look at seven novels that grapple with places that are somehow wrong, either through restless spirits or through something less overtly supernatural, but no less scary.
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