Claire’s and Tim’s Top Ten Books of 2019

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Here we are again, the end of another year of reading. More bookshelves built, more books bought, borrowed and lent. This year, as well as the bookshelves, Tim216 Aug 04 built me a free little library so that I can swap books with my neighbours and anyone who happens to come past. These are springing up all over the world and you can find the locations of many of them here.

This is the fifth year that Tim and I have been tracking our books and coming up with a list of our ten favourites of the year (read, rather than published). You can see previous lists here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

Some facts and figures about my list, compiled from the 94 books I read this year:

  • Five female authors, five male (of the 94, 63 were by female authors)
  • Three books published this year
  • Earliest was first published in 1919
  • One book not published until next year
  • One book in translation
  • One book of short stories
  • Seven books set in the USA; one in the Netherlands; two in England
  • One non-fiction book

UPDATE: Please buy books from independent bookshops. 
During the coronavirus outbreak independent bookshops need you to buy books from them, rather than that large online store that everyone knows. Most independents have an online presence, or if not will take orders over the phone or by email. If we don’t buy from them now (or at least shops with physical stores), then they won’t be able to reopen when all this is over.

If you don’t know any independents, I’m listing one per country below, or you can use bookshop.org in the US, or hive.co.uk in the UK to find / buy from independents. Although it is still best to go to the shop directly. If you can recommend an independent bookshop which will deliver in your country, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

US: Literati Bookstore
UK: The Aldeburgh Bookshop

My Best Reads of 2019

Top three (in no order)

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann

HalibutontheMoonThis is a tough but brilliant read. Vann has returned to the story of his father, this time as a complete novel covering a few days when Jim sees a therapist, and with his brother, visits various relatives and friends. We follow Jim’s most intimate thoughts, and can only watch his self destructive actions as he contemplates suicide. The story is agonising, the writing expressively perfect.

 

Mrs Bridge by  Evan S. Connell


MrsbMrs Bridge was Evan S. Connell’s debut, and it’s so damn good. Over the course of 117 chapters (some as short as a paragraph), we follow Mrs Bridge as she goes about her day-to-day life as a housewife and mother in 1930s Kansas City. She’s been brought up in a certain way, and wants to bring her children up in that way too. She can be bigoted and racist, but she knows this isn’t right, and yet she can’t seem to work out how to break out of her narrow boring existence of the country-club circle. Oh, and the ending is superb. I might be reading this again in 2020.

 

The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion

Journal 2I can’t remember the last time I underlined as many lines, as in The Journal of a Disappointed Man, or laughed as much, or cried. Actually cried, quiet rolling tears, while my husband slept beside me in bed.
This journal starts in 1903 when Barbellion (a pen-name) is 13 and wants desperately to be a naturalist (the journal is full of wonderful descriptions of nature), but has to follow his father and become a local journalist. Still, he is determined, and despite ill-health and being completely self-educated takes an exam and gets a job at The Natural History Museum in London (unfortunately, and rather amusingly the job he is given is to measure the legs on lice). He becomes increasingly ill, but (after much indecision) marries and has a child. All the while recounting his illness, and his thoughts on life and death. Eventually, while still in his twenties, he learns he has multiple sclerosis, only because he opens a letter from his doctor that was not addressed to him. He worries about money, and how his wife and child will manage, but he lives to see his journal published. He dies age 31.
So it is desperately sad, but W.N.P (or Bruce) is funny, and clever, and witty, and thoughtful, and despairing. 2019 marks 100 years since his death, and yet he seems so very real and close. (I came across this book via the Backlisted Podcast. Check it out.)

The Best of the Rest

 

Sleepless Night by Margriet De Moor (translated by David Doherty)

SleeplessThis novel is a subtle, enigmatic and beautiful elegy to a husband and marriage that ends in tragedy. De Moor’s writing is sensual and spare, whether she’s writing about love, a walk in an ice forest, or baking a cake in the middle of the night. There are layers of meaning here, which with adroit subtlety De Moor lets the reader puzzle out.

 


Valentine
by Elizabeth Wetmore

ValentineValentine – another debut – won’t be published until June 2020, and you should definitely look out for it. A wonderful cast of female characters are living in a small West Texas town in 1976 just as an oil boom hits. The terrible event that links them together is finely woven, the thread sometimes even disappears, but it’s the women’s and girl’s lives, their hardships, that kept me reading. Beautifully written, this novel and author surely is going to go far.

 

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

RabbitI’ve come very late to this modern classic, and at first I almost put the book down because I loathed Rabbit, the main character, so much. But I’ve always said I don’t mind reading about horrible characters and then anyway Updike’s writing won me over. Utterly.
At twenty-six, seemingly on a whim Rabbit deserts his wife and child, and hooks up with a young woman he lusts after while criticising her for accepting him. Everything gets messed up, of course. (Excuse the terrible cover – but it’s the edition I read.)

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

the dutch houseThis is the story of Maeve, as told by her younger brother, Danny. Before Danny can fully remember her, their mother leaves them in the care of their father who soon remarries. They live in the Dutch House – an ornate monstrosity with huge glass windows and all the furniture and belongings that a previous Dutch family left behind, and then they are forced to leave. For a while I kept waiting for something big to happen, but once I let that go, I completely fell for this book; fell in love with the family and Patchett’s writing.


Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
by Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs PalfreyThink of a funnier Barbara Pym and you’ll be halfway there with this novel. Mrs Palfrey goes to live at the Claremont Hotel in London in the 1960s, after her husband dies. The hotel is down at heel, as are many of the aging residents. Mrs Palfrey’s grandson doesn’t come to visit her . . . until he does. I laughed out loud many times, mostly at the spot-on observations of people and growing old. Highly recommended.

 

The Understory by Pamela Erens

the understoryThis is another debut, with wonderful lucid and understated writing. It tells the story of Jack an ex-lawyer who has been living illegally in his dead uncle’s apartment in New York for fourteen years. He has compulsive tendencies – visiting Brooklyn bridge every evening, a certain secondhand bookstore, and the same diner for lunch every day. When his new landlord wants to evict him, Jack meets and becomes obsessed with the architect employed to redesign his building. Each chapter alternates between this narrative and one from a few months on when Jack has left New York and is staying in a Buddhist monastery tending their bonsai trees (poorly). I loved it.

Jesus’s Son by Denis Johnson

JesusA perfect collection of short stories all with the same main character. ‘Fuckhead’ is in his early twenties and he’s a drug addict and alcoholic. And no, a series of stories about drug-fuelled craziness narrated by this kind of man wouldn’t normally interest me, either. But the free-wheeling mind-altered narratives are so fresh and scary, and sometimes even funny. Don’t be put off by the subject matter, just read it.

 

Tim’s Top Ten Reads of the Year

Tim’s Top Three (in no order)

  • Half Wild by Robin MacArthur (Tim says: Brilliant intertwined short stories set rural Vermont.)
  • Lila & Theron by Bill Schubart (Tim says: Weirdly, also set in rural Vermont, spanning most of the twentieth century, a small-scale epic story of love and hardship.)
  • Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (Tim says: The unflinching story of a man’s decline. Brutally honest and heartbreaking.)

Best of the Rest

  • Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
  • My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Mendocino and Other Stories by Ann Packer
  • In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
  • The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
  • Turbulence by David Szalay

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Let me know what your top ten reads of the year were, and I’ll do a post about some of them at a later date.

 

Signed cards for Christmas

Christmas books final

 

Personalised cards for Christmas

If you buy a copy of one of my books as a gift for someone this Christmas, let me know and I’ll post you a signed card for free, to include with the book. If you buy more than one book, I’ll send you as many cards as you need.

I’m happy to post cards to anywhere in the world, just send me a message, telling me which book or books you’ve bought, who I should write the card for, and what your address is. Or if you want to treat yourself this Christmas and buy one of my books for yourself, I’ll send a card personalised for you.

And if you post a Christmas-y picture of the book or books you’ve bought on your main feed (not stories) in Instagram, I’ll include a little extra gift. Just make sure to mention this offer and tag me (@writerclairefuller) so I know you’ve done it.

Happy Christmas!

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Buy a copy of Bitter Orange, Swimming Lessons, or Our Endless Numbered Days.

(The small print: this offer is only for physical books – not ebooks or audio; please try to buy your book from a real bookshop, not Amazon; I’ll try to get cards to you in time for Christmas, but can’t guarantee it; this offer is not for copies of my books you have already bought for yourself.)

Bitter Orange Paperback Published in the US today

US paperback

The paperback is published today (Oct 22) in the US. It has the same wonderful cover as the hardback, but with a cut-back cover to show a quote from Time Magazine: “Unsettling and eerie, Bitter Orange is an ideal chiller”.

Although the novel is set in the blisteringly hot August of 1969, the novel has plenty of spooky, gothic elements for people looking for a book to cosy up with in a chilly fall.

It’s available today from all good independent bookstores, bookstore chains, and online. Click here to order.

In conjunction with my US publisher Tin House, I’m running a competition on Instagram to win one of two copies. You must have a US address to enter. Visit my account on Instagram: @writerclairefuller

Bitter Orange is an ideal book for book clubs, and this paperback edition has book club questions in the back to help get your discussion started. 

If you do read it, don’t forget to drop me a line to let me know what you thought.

Happy reading!

Bitter Orange paperback published

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Bitter Orange is published in paperback in the UK today. I love seeing that little penguin in the top right-hand corner.

To celebrate, I’m giving away a few signed copies. You can enter one or all of these:

  1. I’ll be giving away a signed copy to a UK-based subscriber of my newsletter. Sign up here.
  2. Another signed copy will go to anyone who follows me on Twitter and retweets my pinned tweet. Visit my Twitter feed here, or @ClaireFuller2
  3. Two signed copies will go to anyone who follows me on Instagram, and tags a bookish friend or two in the comments of my latest post. Find me @WriterClaireFuller

I can only post to UK addresses. All competitions close on Sunday 12th May.

Good luck!

 

Book titles: Bitter Orange

BitterOrange FINAL pb cover

Archaeology

The titles of my books have always tended to evolve, and Bitter Orange is no exception. Usually though, the early Word files are simply called, Book 1 or Book 4, or whichever it is. But my third novel had a title from the beginning: Archaeology. I thought it was going to be about people digging things up, literally and metaphorically.

I keep a writing diary and on 22nd April 2016 (the novel was started on 23rd December 2015), I thought that Archaeology was too difficult a word to write. ‘Those three bloody vowels in a row are beginning to annoy me,’ I wrote. And on 30th August of that year, I added, ‘I’m thinking of changing the title to Blood Orange’.

Blood Orange

For the rest of the time when I was writing it, the novel was called Blood Orange, and this was what it was called when I sent it to my literary agent, and when it was submitted to my publishers in the UK, the US, and Canada. And they bought it with that name. Blood Orange.

The story is about Frances, a woman who is commissioned to survey the follies in the gardens of an English country house in 1969. There she meets and becomes besotted by Cara and Peter and visits the orangery alongside the house which has (or had at the time of writing) a single blood DSCF8951orange tree, so enormous it has broken through the glass panes. Blood oranges are sweet, and the fruit are ripe at a certain time of year. Three blood oranges are picked from the tree and squeezed to make juice – a point integral to the plot.

Then, in July 2017, after the book was sold, my editor at Penguin told me that the sale of another book, a debut thriller by Harriet Tyce had just been announced in The Bookseller (the UK trade magazine for publishing), and it was called Blood Orange.

Titles of books, or albums or anything else aren’t copyrighted, but it was quickly agreed that publishing books with the same title around the same time was not a good idea, and Harriet’s had been announced, and mine hadn’t. It was mine that would have to change.

Bitter Orange

Changing a title I’d been happy with for months if not years was a difficult thing to accept. I was angry – at no one in particular – for quite a while.

I had lots of conversations with my editors and agents and lots of suggestions were bounced back and forth. I went through the novel with a highlighter and I wrote lists of word combinations. It was Sarah Lutyens, one of the founders of my literary agents, Lutyens and Rubinstein who came up with Bitter Orange. I think she just emailed it to HoAme one day – two perfect words.

Except, that a bitter orange (which is not eaten or juiced, but generally used to make marmalade), is a very different thing to a blood orange. I wrote to Patricia Oliver from Global Orange Groves who had been helping me with orange tree advice for the book. Bitter oranges fruit at different times to blood oranges, and the juice is barely drinkable. Anyone who writes will know that you make what might seem like a simple change in the text: blood to bitter, but the repercussions ripple on and on. If I needed my characters to try to drink the juice, someone needed to realise they needed sugar, then they had to get sugar, which meant someone had to go shopping, which meant someone had to leave the house when I needed them to remain there. I faced lots of niggly revising.

Bitter Orange is better

But once I’d sorted out the changes and had lived with the new title for a while, it seemed more suited than Blood Orange, which I think sounds very thriller-like, and Bitter Orange isn’t a thriller.

By the time the book was published in the UK, in the US, and Canada, I loved the title: Bitter Orange.

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What do you think about the title? Please leave a comment below.

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Bitter Orange is published in paperback in the UK on 2nd May, and is also available in the US, Canada and Germany (where it is called Bittere Orangen). Visit this page to buy a copy.

Sign up for my newsletter with information about forthcoming books, events and competitions.

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Where next?

Read an article on my favourite book titles.

Writing, Editing, Publishing Q&A

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Over on Instagram (@writerclairefuller) I recently asked if anyone had any questions about writing, editing or getting published. And there were lots! I’ve answered them all in brief in an Instagram post, but it’s hard to be concise with so many questions. So here are my longer answers. Do let me know if you have any other questions in the comments below and I’ll save them up for a future post.

My writing day

How I organise my writing time (@raluca1503 @tftmotherland)

I worked for so many years in a marketing company following normal office hours that now I write full time, I can’t rid myself of the old 9 – 5. Well, actually 9 – 6pm. But I’m doing much more than working on my novel in progress in that time, and it does depend on where I am in the publishing cycle. I have been known to be promoting one book, Continue reading

Claire’s and Tim’s Top Ten Books of 2018

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It’s that time again for my, and my librarian husband’s, top ten books. These are selected from books we read this year – not books published this year. You can read our lists from 2017, 2016, and 2015 by clicking on the years.

Here are some facts and figures about my list:

  • None of my top 10 books were published this year (although I did read plenty of recently published books)
  • I read 94 books this year (including a couple of manuscripts)
  • Three of the books on my list have been made into wonderful films: The Hours, The Wall, and My Abandonment (filmed as Leave No Trace), (and You Should have Left is in production)
  • Neatly, five female and five male authors made it onto my list (of my 94, 56 were female)
  • Two of my top ten are English translations from German: You Should Have Left and The Wall
  • The shortest book I read – You Should Have Left – made it onto my top ten. It’s 111 pages, but they are tiny pages. The longest I read was Night Film at 640 pages.
  • I listened to two of the novels on my list, and loved them so much I bought a physical copy: After the Eclipse (also the only non-fiction book on my list), and Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • For an article I wrote in October about haunted house novels, I read several ‘scary’ books that I hadn’t heard of before, and two of them (You Should have Left, and The Elementals) made it onto my list.

My best reads of 2018

Top 3 (in no order)

Continue reading

Post-apocalyptic Reading List

Apocalit1

In my first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, a father takes his daughter to a European forest and after a terrible storm he tells her the rest of the world has disappeared and they are the only two people left on earth. She believes him. I like to think it’s almost what you could call a post-apocalyptic novel, or end-of-the-world fiction, or the term I like best: postapocalit.

Sometimes it’s a devastating disease, or a human-made environmental disaster, a natural catastrophe, or nuclear war that ends the world as we know it. Whichever event changes everything, the ‘rules’ seem to be that very few people are left to struggle for survival in a radically altered world.

When I was growing up in the 1970s I was allowed to stay up late (like Peggy in Our Endless Numbered Days) to watch the television series, Survivors about a group of people in Britain who have survived a plague. It gave me nightmares, but I loved it. And I’ve loved postapocalit and films ever since.

When I was writing Our Endless Numbered Days, I read or re-read as much postapocalit as I could find. (I also read a lot of survival fiction and non-fiction, and these lists will hopefully feature in future posts.) I read so much of it, that again I had recurring postapocalit dreams that didn’t go away until I finished writing.

Here’s a list of my favourite end-of-the-world novels. Continue reading

Finding Inspiration in Place


A little while after Bitter Orange was published in the UK, the author and blogger, Isabel Costello asked me to write something for her ‘literary sofa‘ website. If you don’t know it or her, she hosts a huge number of fascinating posts, author interviews and book reviews. This is the piece I wrote, republished here, about the inspiration for the location in Bitter Orange.

There’s a place not too far from where I live called the hangers. It’s a short range of wooded twisting hills, so steep-sided that they haven’t been cultivated or much changed by humans, and the trees that cling there – beech, lime, yew and ash – are ancient. I regularly walk the footpaths snaking through these woods, and when I was looking for a location for my third novel, Bitter Orange, the hangers’ ghostly beauty seemed perfect.
Bitter Orange is set in a dilapidated country house called Lyntons, and deciding which house it could be based upon was never going to be a problem. About ten miles from my house in the opposite direction to the hangers is The Grange, is a neoclassical property managed by English Heritage. In the grounds there is a lake and a small flint grotto, but most of the surrounding countryside is undulating farmed fields, beautiful in their own way, but not dramatic enough for what I had in mind.
So, I shifted my house ten miles east and set it down right at the foot of the hangers. That’s one of the perks of being a writer – I can move anything to anywhere else, even whole country houses. Now the hills and woods corralled the house, keeping whatever was there isolated and contained.


The original (real) house was built in 1660, red-brick and square, but in the early 19th century it was transformed into one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Europe. The land around it was built up so that the basement floor was completely underground, and at some point all the windows in the attics filled in so the servants mustn’t have got much daylight unless they went outdoors. In its hey-day The Grange had 24 indoor servants, while the estate supported 100 households.

But two world wars changed life for many English country estates and due to death duties their owners could no longer afford their upkeep. Many houses fell into disrepair and were consequently abandoned or demolished. (In 1955 England lost one house every two and a half days.) And The Grange was no different. It was last inhabited in 1964, and in 1972 it was almost demolished by the Baring family who had bought it, until the government got involved and the house was preserved.

And so it still stands today – preserved but unrestored. The outside is open to visitors (and free) all year round, but the inside is only accessible on certain dates for tours. And if you get to go inside you’ll understand why. Most of the interior has been ripped out, and many of the ceilings have gone (netting hangs under them to collect the falling debris). Plaster has gone from many of the walls, but enough remains to give this house an eerie atmosphere of a place kept in suspended animation. A house stopped in the final moment before disintegration.

Once I’d decided that my characters would live in a house inspired by The Grange for the summer of 1969, I visited the outside often, walking around the huge cedar of Lebanon trees, and down to the lake. The orangery (once renowned for its innovative system of channelling rainwater down its interior pillars to water the plants) now houses an opera company – The Grange Festival. The Festival hosts open days and the house is usually open as part of England’s Heritage Open Days scheme.

I visited the interior on as many occasions as I could, and I also wrote to English Heritage to ask if someone could show me around. Richard, the caretaker kindly took me into every room possible (there are still stairs up to the attic, but there are very few rooms that are safe) including every room in the basement. Here, the opera company stores its costumes and props, and so illuminated by bare bulbs I saw dummies and masks, brooms and top hats. As we walked around, Richard told me about the ghosts that haunt The Grange and confessed that sometimes even he (a down-to-earth type) doesn’t like to be there alone. I could see why. At least one of those stories made it into the finished version of Bitter Orange.

In the novel there is a bridge over the lake and follies in the grounds that Frances, the protagonist is commissioned to examine, including a mausoleum, obelisk and ice-house. It took me two years to write Bitter Orange and the landscape surrounding the house is so firmly fixed in my mind that when I go back there now, I look around and always think, but where is the bridge, where are the follies, and why aren’t there any hangers surrounding the house?

House photo courtesy of http://www.alresfordheritage.co.uk

 

A Spine-Tingling Reading List of Haunted House Novels

Creepy house at dusk with lights lit
Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash
This article was first published on Electric Lit.

I grew up reading ghost stories — M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe — and loved watching the ghost story dramas that were on television every Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed being frightened, to feel that surge of adrenaline when I’m doing no more than curling up on my sofa or in my bed. It’s a natural high without any serious consequences.

Haunted house stories bring that feeling of uncertainty or terror home. If you’re indoors when you’re reading a novel with a haunted house at its center, the room you’re in, its uncurtained windows and dark corners, will still be there when you put the book down, and so the thrill continues. And your own house doesn’t have to be a gothic mansion with turrets and secret staircases to be scary. Ordinary houses and apartments all have their own peculiarities that can unsettle. Are those noises water gurgling in the pipes or something else? Did the kitchen door creep open because it’s badly hung, or is something standing on the other side? The fun of reading novels with haunted houses is turning off your thinking brain and seeing how you react.

In Bitter Orange, my third novel, I play with the tropes of haunted houses: the grand dilapidated mansion, the bird found dead in a room, the white face at the window. It’s not only a haunted-house novel; Bitter Orange touches on the ghostly because the setting and the characters’ states of mind seemed to ask for it. Here are seven great haunted house novels that have me glancing over my shoulder:

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin

This book is for anyone who has sat in a lighted room at night with a large glass window in front of them and worried about what’s out there beyond their reflection. Except that Kehlmann cleverly plays with that dread by altering the reflection so the terror becomes what is or in fact isn’t in the room. The narrator in this brief novel is staying with his wife and daughter in the antithesis of the haunted gothic mansion: a modern glass box rented from Airbnb, in the Alps. Written as a journal, the book includes the screenplay the narrator is attempting (pretending) to write, interspersed with notes on the state of his marriage. But as he looks back over what he’s written he sees entries he doesn’t remember making. The book plays with time-travel as well as hauntings, and even throws in a bit of geometry.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I couldn’t write a list of haunted-house novels without including this perfect example. Jackson sets the horror up from the first paragraph, saying of the house, “whatever walked there walked alone.” A paranormal researcher gathers three other people together, including lonely spinster Eleanor, to investigate Hill House in New England, a labyrinthine property of odd angles and dark corners. It’s clear by the end of the novel that the house has a malignant agency; it’s not haunted so much as it’s evil personified, which Eleanor becomes fixated on and changed by.

The Elementals by Michael McDowell

The McCray and Savage families decamp to their two Victorian summer houses at Beldame on a spit of land along the Alabama Gulf Coast, taking with them thirteen-year-old India who is visiting for the first time. But there is a third house in between the two, one that has been empty for years and is slowly being consumed by sand. No family member will step inside it except the spirited India. The location — all heat, light, and encroaching sand — is unlike the usual haunted-house trope of dank darkness, which makes it all the more vivid. The Elementals that inhabit the third house are slippery things, not quite ghosts, but some sort of malevolent shape-shifters that truly terrify.

 

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

In 1947 Dr. Faraday is called out to Hundreds Hall, a dilapidated English country house that he first visited when he was ten and his mother was a maid for the family: “I remember its lovely ageing details: the worn red brick, the cockled window glass, the weathered sandstone edgings. They made it look blurred and slightly uncertain — like an ice, I thought, just beginning to melt in the sun.” From that clever description, Waters hints that this story will be ambiguous and subtle. Faraday becomes entwined with the Ayres family as odd events occur in the house. This is an historical novel with wonderful period detail, and by the end you could say that it’s not the house that is haunted, but the people in it.

 

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

There aren’t any witches in White is for Witching, but there is a house in Dover, England that could be said to be alive. The story — which is slight — is told by four voices, one of which is the house itself. The main narrator is Miranda Silver, who has pica, an eating disorder which compels her eat things which aren’t food, including chalk and plastic. Four generations of dead Silver women exist within the walls of the house and it seems the building has no intention of letting Miranda go either. The writing style is fairytale-esque, and structure is unusual, with the points of view often swapping unexpectedly. There is a feeling of unsettling and confusing dark magic, and it’s the kind of book you have to sink into and not struggle against to discover its full enjoyment.

The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson

Mary and Graham Coles move to a rural cottage in Suffolk, England, one that is “dark and unsteady, turned in on itself.” They have suffered a terrible tragedy and are trying to make a new life for themselves in the country, but Mary catches fleeting glimpses of children in the house and hears their voices outside, as well as seeing a red-headed man. As this narrative develops we are switched into one taking place a hundred years previously. Here, a red-headed stranger is caught under a falling tree and taken in by the family who live in the same cottage as the Coles do now. We hear from a character who is “haunted” by a ghost from the future: “Merricoles.” The two timelines are intricately woven, and the whole story carries a wonderful undercurrent of menace.

Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco

This haunted house novel ticks a lot of boxes for familiar (and reassuring) tropes: rambling and isolated country house, weird current inhabitants, and a happy family that gets “stuck” there. Marian and Ben, together with their son David and aunt Elizabeth, rent a Long Island mansion from the Allardyce siblings one summer. But it’s so cheap, is it too good to be true? Marian becomes obsessed with the house and its contents, as well as an upstairs sitting-room beyond which lives old Mrs. Allardyce. Marian must provide meals for her three times a day, and yet never sees her. You do have to roll with the 1970’s dialogue and occasional sexism, but if you’re looking for a house that turns people mad, this is a classic.

 

Are there any haunted house novels you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

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US jacket of Bitter Orange with hyper-realistic green leaves and bright oranges
“In the vein of Shirley Jackson’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller’s disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal. An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.” Kirkus (starred review). Read more reviews for Bitter Orange.