Halloween is a love-hate time of year for me. The pumpkins, hot masala chai, and Halloween books are in the love category. The unskippable horror film ads on YouTube are firmly in the hate category. But although I am not cut out for horror and thriller films, I am most definitely a fan of creepy gothic novels.
So, this list compiles five novels that I consider to be classics for the Halloween period. Some are classic gothic novels, others are more modern, and there’s a couple curveballs too.
1. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux
Written by a French author in 1910, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is decidedly darker and more unsettling than the sing-a-long Andrew Lloyd Webber film version. The villain is actually a vile and villainous character, a far cry from the modern, crisply suited Tom Hiddleston look-a-likes that pass as villains today.
There’s some romance thrown into this novel, but I certainly wouldn’t classify it as a romance. It’s better described as a tragedy with a horror tinge. Besides some gothic tropes that never fail to bring the goosebumps and spark the imagination, it’s a quick and intense read for the Halloween period. I rated ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ a solid 5 stars on Good Reads, despite a meagre 3.9 average rating. You can find the paperback and hardback on Amazon.
2. ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel
A New York Times bestseller, ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel takes you to modern-day Toronto where civilisation is ready to collapse. It’s not a gothic novel and it doesn’t count as scary either, but it is thought-provoking and superbly written. A good story book to get cosy with on those cold rainy October nights.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, a novel based around the concept of a deadly virus wiping out the world and rebuilding in the aftermath just hits different. I loved the atmosphere of the book, the locations and their descriptions, with a smattering of humour too. It’s not quite good enough to be called a modern classic, but it’s also not one of those holiday paperbacks you just abandon at the hotel. If you enjoyed The Walking Dead but craved a little more sophistication, find ‘Station Eleven’ on Amazon.
3. ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov
The surreal Tim Burton vibes crossed with a touch of romance, historical context, and a deeper understanding of Russia gives ‘The Master and Margarita’ a unique spot on my list of Halloween books. It’s not scary. In fact, it’s best described as a dark satire that masks some of the true horrors of living in a communist country. The novel is absurd in places, touching in others, and intriguing from start to finish.
I’ve written extensively on Why The Master and Margarita Should Be a Film and I stand by that now. The novel has never been more relevant, with freedom of speech seemingly under threat in the West and Russia continuing its assault on Ukraine (at the time of writing). But even with no knowledge of Russian history or current political events, the novel is always an entertaining read in October. If I’ve piqued your interest, you can find Bulgakov’s novel on Amazon.
P.S. if you’ve already finished this one, check my list of books to read after ‘The Master and Margarita’.
4. ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley
If you want a meatier novel to sink your fangs into, I highly recommend giving Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ a go. It’s not a happy novel, with tragedy and despair tangled through the storyline. But with sweeping landscapes and gothic tropes left, right and centre, it’s the perfect book for this time of year.
I first read this novel during my school years, but I’ve grown to appreciate it more as time has passed. The sympathy for the monster, the complexity of his thoughts and emotions. It hits deeper when you’re reading it at 3am and the rain is pouring down outside.
For those who don’t want scares but do want to venture into some darker places within the mind, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ will always be a top choice. Like always, you can find Mary Shelley’s masterpiece on Amazon.
5. ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaiman
The premise of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ is simple – a boy is raised in a graveyard, touching on topics of friendship and love. It’s a comforting choice for your Halloween reading list if you prefer to avoid terrifying tales but still want to enjoy the season. The book is very character-focused and was a pleasurable read from start to finish.
If you have exhausted the classics, this book from the author of ‘Coraline’ will enchant you. I have the hardback version with illustrations by Chris Riddell, which just add to the vibes. It’s the kind of novel you’ll keep in your collection to pass onto children, nieces and nephews. Or perhaps just reread yourself as the years go by.
Find Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ on Amazon.
Other Halloween Books You May Enjoy
- ‘Later’ by Stephen King
- ‘Mallory’ by Josh Malerman
- ‘Natural Beauty’ by Ling Ling Huang
- ‘Mastodon’ by Steve Stred
- ‘The Thirteen Black Cats of Edith Penn’ by Sean McDonough
I would love to hear your thoughts on the best Halloween books this year – let me know in the comments which novels you would add to my list.