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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Suspiciously Specific #6: Books where setting is as much a character as the characters themselves

Houses and Buildings

1. Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Genre: horror, classic

The Setting: there is no way to do a list on significant buildings/houses in books without the quintessential haunted house that is an icon in itself. We all know Hill House, and all I can say is: it’s a classic for a reason.

More haunted houses: see my Ultimate Guide to Ghost Fiction

2. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Genre: horror

The Setting: another haunted house, making its way to being a classic within the gerne. House of Leaves is an alternative-format horror novel, completely centered around the titular house that is strangely larger on the inside than it is on the outside. We follow a range of characters, all becoming obsessed with the mystery of the house in their own way.

3. Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke

Genre: fantasy

The Setting: probably the hardest “place” on this list to describe, as so much of the story is about discovering just that. Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: it’s a series of classical Greek atria, spiraling endlessly. Its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant.

4. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Genre: horror The Setting: two words: haunted Ikea…

More Haunted Stores: The Sentence

5. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Genre: fantasy The Setting: an ancient library hidden deep beneath the earth. In the words of Morgenstern herself: it’s more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. More magical libraries: The Library at Mount Char, Sorcery of Thorns

6. The Nightcircus by Erin Morgenstern

Genre: fantasy

The Setting: a circus that arrives without warning, opens only at night, and where actual magic is performed as a show for lucky spectators. More Magical Carnavals: Caraval, Daughter of the Burning City, Midnight at the Electric

7. A House at the Bottom of the Lake by Josh Malerman

Genre: horror The Setting: the title says it all: a flooded house at the bottom of a lake. This is a take on the haunted house you haven’t seen before. More flooded houses: Cicada’s Sing of Summer Graves

8. In the Dreamhouse by Carmen Maria Machado

Genre: memoir

The Setting: in this spectacular memoir, Machado uses the titular house as a metaphor to explore the different “rooms” of her abusive relationship.

9. Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

Genre: fantasy

The Setting: you’ve seen magical academies before, but not like this one. The Institute of Special Technologies is a place where the metaphysical unravels, where students are encouraged to question everything, and where academia is at its most alienating and infuriating. More magical Academies: Harry Potter, Amari and the Night Brothers, Babel. Note: none of them are remotely comparable to the academic-weirdness of Vita Nostra.

10. Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Genre: literary fiction

The Setting: the immense urban apartment with its adjacent sculpting-atelier forms the core of this psychological novel. It’s the claustrophobic, yet comforting setting of two of our protagonists key-life events: her self-isolation with a lover she barely knew during the lockdown resulted from (a very COVID-like) pandemic, and her subsequent final days as an elderly woman reflecting on the life she’s lived.

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