Five dark historic gothics to savor this fall
While pricking my thumbs, something nasty comes this way …
… And we are in the middle of October, bringing with it longer, colder nights and the scent of apple cider on the breeze. It’s the time of year to stroll through muddy pumpkins, tell ghost stories with a flashlight (or ‘torch’, here in the UK) balanced precariously under your chin and, of course, immerse yourself in a good Gothic novel. But let’s say you’ve read the classics. You have already torn The Haunting of Hill House; you want something more modern, less familiar than Dracula. Say you would like to read something Costs; something that sums up Gothic sensibility while taking you to an entirely new place.
To that end, here is a list of sumptuously spooky Gothic novels that penetrate history and transform this tried and true genre into new and unexpected forms.
(Not provided, but recommended: a thick blanket and a hot, sweet drink.)
The dark descendants of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Written and published to celebrate the 200e mary shelley’s birthday Frankenstein, The dark descent tells the gothic classic from the perspective of Victor’s childhood girlfriend, Elizabeth. With somber flair, White reinvents the Elizabeth we know, giving her a voice of her own and revealing that beneath the delicate exterior lies a cautious and calculating survivor. This tale perfectly sums up the vibe of Shelley’s novel, rich in relevant detail and lyrical prose. We see this from the very first line: “Lightning clawed at the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.
While it has a lot to offer fans of the original Frankenstein (which, by the way, is also a great October read), you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate White’s story – it’s a fascinating novel in its own right, one that can be read. and enjoyed by anyone – making it a top pick for the spooky season.
The poisoned thread / The Corset by Laura Purcell
This novel, published in the United States under the The poisoned thread and the UK as The Corset– weaves a compelling story around two storytellers in Victorian London. Dorothea Truelove is a young and wealthy heiress: she wants little, but is morbidly drawn to Oakgate Prison, where she seeks to learn more about her prisoners through the emerging study of phrenology. Teenage Ruth was once a seamstress; now accused of murder, she waits horribly for the hangman’s noose. It is Ruth’s belief that she can sew bad intentions into her clothes, imbuing them with the power to hurt and even kill. During a series of prison visits, Dorothea listens to Ruth’s dark story – following her step by step through poverty, forced labor and cruel betrayals – but the question is: can she believe it? As the cover of the book asks, is Ruth “mad or murderous”? Purcell writes with the intricacy of embroidery, carefully balancing the possibilities in a way that will leave you guessing until the very last page.
Affinity by Sarah Waters
Another novel that features the setting of a Victorian prison, Affinity is a carefully crafted and delicate story about trust, intimacy and betrayal. This time our main narrator is Margaret Prior, a troubled young woman who seeks a distraction from her personal life by visiting the Millbank Women’s Quarters. It is within the walls of this labyrinthine prison that she meets Selina Dawes, a spiritualist who claims that a ghost committed the murder she is accused of. Margaret is fascinated by Selina and soon begins to fall in love with her… but all the while, there is a nagging doubt in the back of her mind. Can she really afford to believe in ghosts?
Richly documented and packed with fascinating detail, this novel takes you on a fascinating journey through the dark Victorian world of spiritualism and crime.
Mexican gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Now we are jumping ahead of the 19e century to 20e, with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s magnificent 1950s reinvention of the Gothic haunted house. When sociable and headstrong socialite Noemí Taboada receives a panicked letter from her newly married cousin, she sets out on the journey from Mexico City to High Place, an isolated English house in a discolored former mining town. It is from this dreary, mushroom-strewn landscape that Noemí seeks to root out her trapped cousin, and finds herself drawn into the heart of a story so horrific she could never have imagined.
Moreno-Garcia’s writing exquisitely blends horrors that are both fantastical and undeniably real, simultaneously revitalizing the classic haunted house narrative and taking a hatchet against racist tropes of the past. Despite all its horror, this chilling story has a thread of love and tenderness running through its heart that will have you supporting Noemí every step of the way.
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
The last novel on this list is deeply peculiar and deeply compelling. Inspired by the Gothic novel of 1820 by Charles Maturin Melmoth the wanderer, Perry builds terrifying folklore around a masked figure that roams the land, cursed for witnessing acts of wickedness through all time. In it, Melmoth the Witness – a woman rather than the man from the original novel – seeks out those with guilty hearts and seduces them to join her in her endless loneliness. From 17eFrom the England of the century to the Turkey of the 1920s, from Czechoslovakia during the war to the sticky heat of the Philippines, Melmoth the Witness wanders silently and diligently, waiting for the only person who may ultimately succumb.
Told partly through first-person recollections of Melmoth and partly through the modern story of Helen Franklin – an aging translator in Prague, whose dark history is beginning to catch up with her – this story holds you tight and does not hold you back. don’t let go.
Premium: Gallant by VE Schwab
Just when you thought you saw all the twists and turns that make great goth stories, here is the prolific VE Schwab with her own take on the genre. Presented by the author as The secret garden meets Crimson woodpecker, Gallant is a standalone Gothic novel, and is slated for release in March 2022! If it’s even half as intricate and gorgeous as its cover design, then it’s not to be missed.
Holly Kybett Smith is a lesbian writer based in the south of England. Passionate about historical and speculative fiction, she specializes in all that is dark, whimsical and strange. His work was featured in issue 2 of the New Gothic Review. Find her on Twitter: @h_kybettsmith.