David Mitchell's 6 favorite ghost stories

The best-selling author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks recommends works by Henry James, Stephen King, and more

Paul Stuart
(Image credit: Paul Stuart)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Dover, $3). A perfectly crafted novella by one of literature's all-time master stylists. A young governess arrives at an English estate and begins seeing ghosts. Or is she just having the mother of all nervous breakdowns? James feeds the reader twisted suspicions but not straight answers. By refusing to satisfy, he satisfies.

The Shining by Stephen King (Anchor, $8). If you think you know King's The Shining because you've seen Stanley Kubrick's famous adaptation, you're not wrong but you're also not right. Jack Torrance takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the snowbound Overlook Hotel, which is most definitely sentient and evil. King's prose is matter-of-fact, and the pacing is perfect, all the way through the exquisite, grueling crescendo.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin, $16). A paranormal investigator rents a country manor with an 80-year history of murder and suicide, hoping to prove the validity of his field of endeavor. This strange, rewarding 1959 novel by a strange, gifted novelist both belongs to and transcends its era.

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Strangers by Taichi Yamada (out of print). Like every ghost story, Strangers is also a detective story, whose core mysteries are the questions "Who are the ghosts?" "What do they want?" and "Can I get out of here alive?" After encountering the ghosts of his parents, Hideo Harada starts aging at an unnatural speed. Are the "parents" sucking the life out of him?

The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon, $21). This one-of-a-kind novel messes with your head and may well invade your dream life. The interior of the eponymous house begins to grow by rumbling increments, sprouting hallways, anterooms, and an unmappable subterranean labyrinth. The protagonist recruits explorers to investigate, and as you can imagine, these excursions do not lead to a happy ending.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray (Seren, $26). Murray's latest novel, set in crumbling postwar England, brings a 21st-century sensibility to a haunted Victorian house. Sugar Hall is host to themes of slavery, migration, exploitation, and history's habit of updating its uglier productions with new actors and costumes.

David Mitchell's new novel, Slade House, is a haunted-house story for a new century.

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