I’ve recommended gothic reads in the past, and I stand by those recommendations. But since it’s my favourite genre, and autumn/winter is the perfect time to indulge in some unsettling, atmospheric, and immersive reads, I thought I’d recommend a few more. In case any catch your eye, I’ve linked to each book on Book Depository. And as always, I encourage you all to share your own recommendations in return!
The Corset by Laura Purcell
Described as a Victorian chiller, The Corset follows two young women in very different circumstances. Ruth is a teenage seamstress awaiting trial for murder. Dorothea is a wealthy socialite, whose fascination with phrenology leads her to Oakgate Prison, where she hopes to uncover the truth behind Ruth’s case. An air of mystery and threat bubbles throughout, with the book exploring notions of female autonomy, the horror of poverty, and the psychological impact of trauma. Flirtations with the possibility of something supernatural are handled incredibly well, elevating this gothic gem to the heights of subtle literary horror.
A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
Written in sumptuous, evocative prose, A Spell of Winter is a strangely beguiling tale that explores forbidden love, the burden of secrets, and the struggle to escape the cloying inheritance of family. Set largely in the build up to WWI, we have many hallmarks of the gothic genre, including an imposing manor home, a family cutting themselves off from the outside world, and dangerous secrets that threaten to tear them all apart. Tense and quietly eerie without ever boiling over, I was utterly enthralled.
House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
Clara, a young woman with a rare brittle bone condition and a passion for botany, is invited to establish a glasshouse at Shadowbrook, an infamous country home. Upon arrival, she finds an owner conspicuous by absence, and residents terrified of a supposed haunting. Clara soon sets her practical mind to solving the crumbling manor’s mysteries. In many ways, this is a book of opposites; of truth versus lies, logic versus faith, and reality versus the supernatural, as we follow the unravelling of long-held secrets, and examine the devastating ways women’s lives were ruled by scandal, rumour, and reputation. This is gothic historic fiction at its best, and is easily one of my books of the year so far.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
There’s no one reading this who hasn’t heard of Dracula. It’s one of those books that is so iconic, we tend to think we know all about if before we even read it, leaving us to wonder if it’s worth the time and effort. Having finally picked it up for myself last year, I can confidently say that it absolutely is. So much more nuanced than I expected, I loved its fascinating take on gender roles, the Victorian fixation with bodily and sexual corruption, and the timeless fear of the unknown. As a lover of gothic and horror fiction, it was really fun to see many of the foundations upon which those genres would flourish being set down. There is some very interesting use of queer coding to examine too, but above all else, it remains a gripping, atmospheric page turner.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
It’s worth pointing out that this is very, very different from the recent Netflix adaptation, which only shares the book’s name and generally creepy nature. Jackson’s novel is a masterclass in the less is more approach to horror, completely forgoing gore or jump scares. Far more psychological than its screen counterpart, it creeps beneath your skin, forcing you to question what is real and which characters can be trusted. A rumination on the invasive influence of storytelling and fear, and the dangerous power of the imagination, themes of suppression, sisterhood, and belonging simmer to reach a breathless fever pitch. Intelligent, understated, and downright unsettling, this take on the classic haunted house narrative is all the better for its ambiguity.
Have you read any of these? What gothic reads would you recommend?