It wasn’t until midway through revising the novel I’m writing that I realized I was writing a ghost story. It’s an interesting moment when you give up control of something you’re making and instead become its servant, helping it become what it needs to become. The trick, I think, is to stay out of its way.

I spent the summer reading some touchstones of horror: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Koji Suzuki’s The Ring, Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, and most recently, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Hill House, famously “not sane,” bothers the soul because Jackson describes the perception of horror, not the horror itself:

[The house] had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length.

We’re left to imagine what these walls might look like. Later, a woman turns and sees something, then screams to her companion, “Don’t look back—don’t look—run!” Another character struggles with her bedroom door but is “unable to open it against the volume of noise outside.” The fear is vivid; the causes remain unknown.

Early in the story, a professor ruminates about our need for explanations. “People are always so anxious to get things out into the open,” he says, “where they can put a name to them, even a meaningless name, so long as it has something of a scientific ring.” Jackson trusts that our imaginations are far more wicked than anything she might describe, and she creates the conditions for these imaginings to fester into something genuinely horrifying because they cannot be named.

Ghost-wise, I’m not sure where to go after Jackson. Any recommendations for novels that deal with hauntings would be much appreciated.