What’s better in spooky season than a great haunted house story? Queer haunted house stories, of course. This list of 10 queer haunted house books includes YA titles, brand spankin’ new queer and trans horror novels, a few underappreciated tales from the 90s and 2000s, plus the haunted house book known as the best ever written. Let’s get gay and scared!
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
The Upstairs House tackles the horrors of new motherhood a la “The Yellow Wallpaper,” focusing on the protagonist Megan’s postpartum descent into madness. Not only is she physically, mentally, and emotionally ravaged from childbirth and looking after her baby alone while her husband travels for work, her unfinished PhD thesis on mid-century children’s literature haunts her. Which makes the sudden appearance of Margaret Wise Brown — author of the classic Goodnight, Moon and one of many queer children’s authors who flourished in the 40s, 50s, and 60s — a truly fitting ghost. Soon Margaret’s lover, actress and socialite Michael Strange, also appears in the room upstairs which doesn’t exist. Megan finds herself in the middle of a horrifying paranormal power struggle, not sure of what is real or not.
Gnarled Hollow by Charlotte Greene
In this blend of horror and romance, Emily is an unemployed English professor and scholar who is offered a dream proposal: to live, work, and study in Gnarled Hollow, an estate that used to belong to one of the authors she studies. Her favorite writer’s home, of course, is rumored to be haunted. Emily doesn’t believe in that nonsense, until she moves into the house and finds herself losing large chunks of time, rooms going missing, and doors slamming on their own. When researchers from other disciplines join Emily — including a gorgeous art historian named Juniper — they too are frightened by a mysterious, malevolent presence in the house. Scared but undeterred, Emily and Juniper attempt to discover if there truly is a ghost haunting Gnarled Hollow and why.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
This historical novel set in 1930s England sits at the crossroads of gothic and horror. I have to credit twitter user @gothicsreview for selling me on this book by saying it has “a lot of homoerotically drinking crème de menthe.” What else do you need to know?? Okay, here’s more: in 1939, 30-year-old Hetty is tasked with the moving and caretaking of the mammals normally held in a natural history museum for the duration of the war. After transporting them to Lockwood Manor, Hetty has to contend with grumpy Lord Lockwood who has only reluctantly offered his estate. His alluring but strange daughter, Lucy, however, is a welcome distraction. But when the animals start to go missing and Hetty suspects something lurking around the house in the dark, Hetty wonders if the local rumours about Lockwood being cursed and haunted are true.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This classic 1959 novel is often cited as the best haunted house story of all time, but it is also hella gay, in case you didn’t know. Jackson’s lean but muscular writing employs perfect restraint; the text itself never falls one way or the other on the side of the horrors of Hill House being “real” or merely in the minds of its inhabitants. The premise — four strangers gather at a house known to be haunted in order to search for paranormal activity — is self-consciously contrived. Theodora, one of the investigators, has agreed to stay at a house in middle of nowhere with strangers because of a terrible fight with her roommate *cough lover *cough. She immediately forms an intense emotional bond with Eleanor, the other woman in the house. Don’t even get me started about the spinster who previously owned Hill House is every woman who’s ever lived in this place gay?
The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
In narrative layer upon layer, Kiernan crafts a deeply haunting and mysterious tale about Sarah, a caustic 40-year-old writer who has left Atlanta in the wake of her girlfriend’s death by suicide. She moves to an old house in rural Rhode Island, where an ancient decrepit oak tree grows in a desolate corner of the property. Inside the house’s spooky basement, Sarah finds an unfinished manuscript written by the previous tenant detailing the history of the tree and its connections to local myth, numerous accidents, and even murder. As the tree starts to take over Sarah’s imagination, she begins writing a new history of it. But she is not prepared for what her research unearths.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
A queer retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Kingfisher’s novel will be a big hit with fans of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, with its gothic horror vibes and terrifying fungi. The tale begins in 1890 when a soldier named Alex is called to their old childhood friend Madeline when she is dying. Madeline resides at her family’s ancestral house in rural Ruritania. What Alex finds there is not only their ill, sleepwalking friend, but her disturbed brother, nightmarish fungal growths galore, seemingly possessed wildlife, and a dark lake that seems alive. Alex is used to fighting in the army, but this is a whole other type of battlefield. Can Alex, along with the help of a doctor and a mycologist, discover what the secrets of the House of Usher are before it consumes all of its inhabitants?
These Fleeting Shadows by Kate Alice Marshall
In this YA horror story (with a side of queer romance), Helen has been left with a burdensome inheritance: her family’s large ancestral home, extensive grounds, and substantial fortune. The only catch? She has to live at Harrowstone Hall for a full year, never leaving, in order to inherit. If she is to fulfill her deceased uncle’s request and survive the year at Harrow, she must dig back into her childhood and unravel her family’s secrets. Helen has no idea why she and her mother moved away from Harrow when she was a child and why they don’t speak to any of their extended family. But she does remember Harrow; it has been haunting since she left. Now that she has arrived, her life has become a waking nightmare. The house is built as if to deliberately make you get lost, some strange creature is digging holes in the ground’s forest floor, and she has been inexplicably sick for weeks.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
In Oyeyemi’s melancholy and deeply uneasy novel, the house in question is haunted in the same ways its inhabitants are, and is just as alive. A character unto itself, the Silver family house sits off the cliffs of Dover and likes to keep the women of the family for itself; it’s that kind of monster. Twins named Miranda and Eliot live in the house with their father. All three mourn the death of Lily, the matriarch of the family and the twins’ mother. Miranda — the novel’s queer character — is especially attuned to the Silver women from beyond the grave who are a part of the house now. Soon her connection with the otherworldly starts to override her place in the mundane world, where her brother and father watch helpless as she slips away. Oyeyemi’s writing is fairy-tale-like in its timelessness and the novel’s shifting point of views — including one that belongs to the house itself — are a roaring success.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt
This horrifying haunted house story with plenty of blood and guts takes to task British fascism and TERFs, as well as exploring contemporary trans lives in the UK. The story begins three years after friends and/or exes Alice, Hannah, and Ila spent a terrifying night in an abandoned house. Alice has been sleepwalking through life ever since, haunted by memories. But when Ila asks her to return to the house, she knows what she must do. As Alice and Ila prepare to face what they’ve already experienced there and fresh horrors upon returning, Hannah — whom neither of them has seen since the fateful night — has been taken prisoner by the house. Faced with the burdens of both supernatural and real life horrors such as trauma, violence, and social injustice, Alice and Ila struggle to rescue Hannah and to keep themselves intact, physically and psychologically.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
A group of old friends who used to go ghost hunting together in their youth in Malaysia gather as adults for a wedding celebration in a Heian-era haunted mansion in Japan. They’re not thrown for a loop when they discover the place is haunted; in fact, it was the selling point for the bride-to-be. The story of the ancient house goes like this: centuries ago, a woman whose fiancé died on his way to their wedding had herself buried alive in the house to await the arrival of his ghost. Every year since then, another young woman has been buried in the house’s walls to keep her company. How nightmarish can this wedding get when the attendants are there looking for ghosts? Like a living hell, it turns out. Featuring bisexual representation!
Which queer haunted house book are you excited to read this spooky season? Do you have any others to recommend?
Horror Is So Gay is a series on queer and trans horror edited by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya running throughout October.