If we’re going to talk about Gothic novels, it would help to take a look at what Gothic fiction actually is. Basically, if it involves creepy vibes, death, a little horror, intense emotions, paranormal bits, and even some romance—congratulations, you’ve got yourself a Gothic novel! They tend to move away from logic and reason and more toward emotion and imagination, and that shift tends to lead to some really interesting fiction. We absolutely love this genre for this time of year, because neither of us are much into horror or gore, and these tend to give us the suspense and spooky feels without grossing us out.
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If you’re looking for the classics:
Wuthering Heights| Emily Brontë- People who go into this expecting a romance story or anything along the lines of Jane Austen are going to be sorely disappointed. The book opens with a ghost sawing our narrator’s arm on a jagged piece of broken window…so yeah, Austen would certainly not approve. The dark and twisted romantic connection between wicked, passionate Heathcliff and fiesty, petulant Catherine is set against the infamously bleak landscape of the English moors, making for an extremely atmospheric story. This book is exceptionally intense and dark, but the flawed characters, the elements of the supernatural, and the deeply human connections coalesce into something remarkable, even if it isn’t exactly pleasant.
Rebecca | Daphne Du Maurier- This one, though published in the 30’s, has aged beautifully. It’s got an aging English mansion and all the morose, rainy atmosphere you could possibly want. The story revolves around a young newlywed, a psychologically manipulative housekeeper, marital secrets, mysteries, plenty of death, and the story climaxes spectacularly during a formal masked ball. Intrigued yet? Plus, echoes of Jane Eyre abound. Speaking of which…
Jane Eyre | Charlotte Brontë- A little less sinister than some others on this list, nevertheless this is a truly exceptional example of Gothic literature. Sad childhoods, creepy, creepy secrets, a bit of romance, a remote mansion in the English countryside (sensing a theme here…) and a good dose of melodrama build this novel into it’s shocking conclusion. Jane herself is quite the admirable heroine, fiery and strong under her calm, plain exterior; it's very easy to appreciate why she is so beloved. Well worth reading, and I guarantee you’ll recognize some familiar tropes, because this is the novel that started them!
The Woman in White | Wilkie Collins- A complex page turner, this one features a mysterious woman in white, whispers of insane asylums, ominous letters, star crossed lovers, grand estates, and much more. It's got just enough of a creepy edge to be perfectly Gothic, while having plenty of other action happening to keep the well layered mystery plot moving quickly.
Frankenstein | Mary Shelley- Our buddy read/readalong this month, and does this one even need an explanation? It has permeated pop culture so thoroughly, just do yourself a favor and read the original! It’s much better than the green monsters printed on Halloween decorations, or the black and white horror show movie you remember, we promise. Plus, Mary Shelley was fascinating. More on her later.
If you want A fresh take on Gothic lit:
The Thirteenth Tale | Diane Setterfield- A reclusive, dying author hires a relatively unknown biographer, Margaret, to tell her life story. Old world glamour, family secrets, and mysterious ties that bind them together abound in this novel. It has some strong flavors of Rebecca, Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, so expect madness, secrets, the threat of the paranormal, and death (of course), but the book remains exceptionally clever and fresh. Oh! And the majority of the story takes place in…you guessed it: a creepy old English mansion!
Bitter Orange | Claire Fuller- I read this one last month and was blown away. A crumbling English mansion in the countryside (yep! again!), a couple who aren’t what they seem, secrets of both the house and of the people, rich, dark atmosphere despite it’s sunny facade, and yes, death, obviously, because we’re talking about Gothic novels! Bitter Orange is like if Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Du Maurier’s Rebecca had an eerily atmospheric, glittering book baby. Plus it was such a clever, clever twist on the unreliable narrator thing. Ultimately, you’re a stunningly written and complex mystery when you pick this one up.
Her Body and Other Parties | Carmen Maria Machado- A short story collection that 100% felt like reading a modern, diverse take on Gothic lit. These stories play with unique formats and blur horror and love into a gorgeously realized collection. Dark, powerful, fresh, and so so good; I absolutely loved it. I will say that it is VERY graphic, so read at your own risk if you're sensitive to that!
The Secret History | Donna Tartt- Remember the elements that comprise a Gothic novel? The Secret History has them alllllll. Incredible atmosphere? Check. Melodrama and big feelings? Check. Murder? Double Check. Horror? Paranormal bits? Check and check. It’s perfect. I know you guys don’t need to hear me gush about this book ever again, but…it’s a perfect example of a modern Gothic novel, just sayin’!
The Winters | Lisa Gabriele- This one is due to release next week (10/16), but it’s essentially a modern retelling of the infamous Rebecca. All the same elements, but sub the nasty housekeeper for a foul mouthed step daughter with a huge Instagram following, and add in Caribbean cruises, deadly car crashes, and one hell of a twist at the end. All the tension and atmosphere you could ever want, and a brilliant take on an old favorite.
What are your favorite Gothic novels, old or new?