9 Gothic Novels Less than 40 Years Old
When people think of the gothic novel, they think old. (Here’s a great starter list by LitReactor’s Meredith Borders of some of the gothic classics.) It’s a genre born of and steeped in tradition, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. There are plenty of excellent contemporary gothic novels – some of the old tradition and some modernized, but all fantastically atmospheric and juicy. Whether you’ve already read all the classics and need fresher blood or you want to explore the genre but just don’t like old books, here are nine gothic novels that aren’t even over the hill yet.
Remember when your well-meaning mother and evil grandmother locked you and your siblings away in an attic so they could inherit a bunch of money, and then you accidentally fell in love with your brother because there was literally no other human for you to spend time with right as you hit puberty? No? Don’t worry, you can experience all of that twisted tragedy and more vicariously with the modern classic Flowers in the Attic. And if that’s not enough to
scar you for life satiate your perverse needs, never fear: there are four sequels. Just, whatever you do, don’t assume it’s a YA because the protagonists are teenagers and loan it to your kids. (Unless you roll that way. I don’t judge.)
Complete with a lone protagonist on a mysterious task, an isolated house that has its own name (I mean, really, when was the last time you heard of a house that had its own Proper Noun Name?), eerie settings, quiet, relentless tension, and vindictive ghosts, The Woman in Black is the closest you can get modern-day to a historically classic gothic novel. And yes, it’s well worth a read even if you saw the movie. It supplies in literary quality and depth value far beyond what was conveyable on screen.
The Witching Hour is one of those novels that’s difficult to summarize, because it’s just so incredibly intricate and big. This disturbing saga follows a family of witches across centuries of being haunted, controlled, and taunted by a dangerous spirit. From burning witches at the stake in 17th-century France to discovering psychic gifts in 1990’s San Francisco, this book is a master-class in setting, scope, and weaving narratives together. If you’re looking for a dense, immersive read, look no further than the first book in the trilogy of the Mayfair Witches.
If you like your gothics with a little less horror and a little more romance, then Fingersmith might be up your alley. Set in Victorian London, bouncing between Dickensian lower-class thieves and exquisite gothic upper-class isolationists, this novel twists, twists again, and keeps on twisting. Oh, and did I mention the romance is a lesbian affair? Somehow, Waters manages to sew romance, horror, feminist commentary, thrilling twists, gorgeous prose, and fabulous characterization into a single, seamless tapestry of gothic goodness. The best I’ve read in some time. Get in on this one.
If you like your gothics with a little less romance and a little more horror, then A Choir of Ill Children may be worth your time. Disclaimer: this one is literary in the obscurest, densest, most inaccessible sense of the word, so if you don’t like to work for you food, skip this one. But if you like a challenge, prose doesn’t get much more unique and artful than this book. Set in a swampy southern town full of dirty souls, veiled commentary, and unlikely deformities, this book begs to be read twice: once to immerse and again to edify.
What’s a list of gothic novels without some vampires? At 240,000 words, The Historian is admittedly a commitment, but when enough people tell you to add something to your list, you eventually admit it’ll be one you someday regret taking so long to get to. When a young woman comes across an unsettling letter in her father’s library, she’s unwittingly plunged into a dark, tangled web of good and evil. This novel masterfully blends the historical figure Vlad Tepes with his fictional counterpart Count Dracula.
Speaking of books and mysterious letters, in The Thirteenth Tale, another unsuspecting young woman is drawn into someone else’s tale of family secrets, haunted pasts, decaying estates, and ominous truths. A beautiful blend of ghosts, history, family drama, and mystery, this one also brings plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning pages.
If adult books aren’t your style, YA, too, boasts its own contributions to gothic heritage. Cleverly disguised as a zombie novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth will be immensely satisfying to gothic genre fans. Full of horror, melodrama, richly atmospheric settings, sinister members of the cloth, mystery, decaying society, and a forbidden love, all in lyrical prose told from the perspective of a teenage girl, this is not your typical zombie novel.
And last (latest) but certainly not least, how about a beautiful modern gothic to finish of the list? The Night Swimmer is literary fiction first and gothic fiction second, but the gothic elements, though subtle, are definitely there, lurking in the background like dark silhouettes. What seems at first to be a marital drama set in Ireland slowly unravels into a quiet, memorable, and utterly compelling story of violence, secrets, culture, and the depths of the human heart. If you don’t need your stories splashy, this one is definitely worth your time. I read it five years ago and scenes from it still stand out vividly in my mind.
So the next time you get a hankering for a book that blends horror and romance, utilizes family saga and mystery, revels in atmosphere and dread, why not pick up a gothic? These nine beauties are waiting for you, the contemporary descendants of the classics in the genre, a dark and twisted lineage still thriving today.
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