I don’t like horror stories containing graphic violence, but around Halloween, I like to read a gothic novel. How are they different than the average scary book? To my mind, gothic novels rely heavily on setting, often an old abbey or monastery, an old house or a ruin of some kind. Also, there is usually a naïve young woman or girl in peril. They are scary and suspenseful, but it tends to be a subtle terror. They are more mysteriously atmospheric than chainsaw massacre as the violence is often psychological or supernatural in nature. Traditionally, the young woman is saved by a romantic hero. But, more modern novels with gothic overtones have the women save themselves. A welcome change! Here are some of my favorites: both old and new!
Of course, you must read Du Maurier’s Rebecca in the autumn as the dusk falls earlier. This title always reminds me of Jane Eyre, another classic in this genre. On a more modern note, try Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Set in a spooky house with a supernatural flavor, it also features a handsome doctor with quite a twist at the end.
While not strictly a gothic novel, The Girl on the Train strikes me as very gothic in nature. It involves a young woman who is an unreliable narrator (think Gone Girl) observing people from a train. A particular house is important to the story and evil lurks quite near in the ordinary. Gail Godwin is not an author you would expect to write a gothic novel, but her Flora is definitely in this genre. Set over a summer in a decaying family home high on a mountain, a troubled young girl bonds with her pretty vivacious aunt which leads to dire consequences.
And, finally, for those who like their titles truly chilling, pick up Robert Goolrick’s The Reliable Wife. The story of a rich man so in love with his younger mail-order wife that when he realizes she is slowly poisoning him, he does nothing… Happy Halloween!