Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spotlight List: Gothic Fiction, part I

Spotlight is a feature I do where I pick a topic or theme and then highlight some books that fall into that theme. Here are some previous Spotlight posts:

Classics that are Actually Fun to Read
Sleeping Beauty Retold
More Spotlight posts

Interested in reading Gothic fiction?

Well, I am. I fell in love with the genre and totally saturated myself with Gothic fiction last year. But being the "More is More" type of person that I am, I want, well, more! I'll be participating in the Gothic Reading Challenge hosted over on Well-Mannered Frivolity in order to get my Gothic fix in 2011.

To help jump start my motivation, I've put together a little list here of some of my favorite Gothic fiction books as well as a few I'll be considering for the challenge. I will be releasing the list in four Spotlight posts:
  1. Part I: Adult Gothic Fiction I Bet You'll Love
  2. Part II: YA Gothic Fiction, part I
  3. Part III: YA Gothic Fiction, part II
  4. Part IV: Gothic Fiction Classics
Unfamiliar with Gothic fiction? Here are the basics: The Gothic movement started in the late 1700s and flourished all through the 1800s as an offshoot of the romantics. All of these authors were focused on evoking strong emotions from their readers, but Gothic writers tried especially hard to evoke feelings of peril, suspense, and fear.

Have you ever told scary stories on a dark and stormy night? You know they're not true, but a part of you still believes them. You almost want the story to be real because it is spooky and exciting and it's fun getting yourself all worked up over the story.

For this reason, the story-within a story motif was a common tactic in Gothic fiction, conjuring the idea of a normal friend relating a scary story they heard, making the frightening aspects of the story seem like they could almost be real.

Some common elements of Gothic fiction include: 
  • A setting in an old castle or other large and opulent house (or boarding school) with a history
  • Isolation
  • Heavy atmosphere, utilizing the weather and other scenery descriptions to set the mood
  • An ancient prophecy
  • Unraveling a mystery
  • Generational curses
  • Visions, premonitions, messages from the dead, omens
  • Supernatural or seemingly supernatural occurrences 
  • Going beyond death
  • Overly emotional characters (wild speeches, passionate, madness)
  • Men who are "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" (but oh so attractive)
  • Powerful, enduring love

And, without further ado, I bring you
Part I: Adult Gothic Fiction I Bet You'll Love

*The books on this list are technically "adult," but there is nothing in them that would be inappropriate for a YA to read. Think of them as "adult" like classics are "adult."

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
 Release Date: January 2006
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 406
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page 

I know it isn't the best form to gush about a book by simply saying "OMG SQUEEEE YOU HAVE TO READ THIS @*($&*^#!!!!!" but it's hard not to do that with this book. There was a bit of buzz for this one when it first came out and, I admit, I fell in love with the cover. I finally read it when I snagged a used hardcover copy (for $3!!). All I can say is, all of the hype was completely deserved.

The story begins a little slow with the introduction of Margaret, a sort of lame biographer who works in her father's bookstore. Margaret's big break comes when she is contacted by Vida Winter, a super-star author who has always been enigmatic about her life. She decides to finally tell the truth about her history, and contracts Margaret to pen the story. They meet and Ms. Winter begins telling her tale.

This is when the story picks up and I guarantee you will be swept away in Ms. Winter's chilling tale involving a crumbling old mansion, two generations of twins, and more family secrets and twisty mysteries than you could possibly imagine! Whenever I think of genius storytelling, The Thirteenth Tale always comes to mind.

Canone Inverso
Release Date: 1996
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 204
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page

This was another gem I snagged for a steal and was left breathless. Utilizing the story within a story tactic, this one takes it a step further and adds another story within the first two. Following? It's a twisty, turny, spiral through mystery and darkness with an ending that left me with my jaw on the floor.

The story opens in an auction house as the narrator attempts to purchase a violin. We are then taken back in time as the narrator recounts a chance meeting he had with a violinist of "Sold his soul to the devil" skills; a man who once owned the violin the narrator is attempting to buy. The story then spirals into another story, as the virtuoso relates a dark tale of madness and betrayal. Each layer is somehow connected to the violin, but the mysteries and identities of the players wrap the reader in knots of deception. This book is psychological and Gothic horror at its finest. It is also beautifully written.

The Seance, by John Harwood
Release Date:  February 3, 2009
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 336
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page

I admit, I was really turned off by the cover of this one. I shelved this book at work for almost a year before I decided to pick it up for myself. Based on the description, I was hoping this one might possibly be as good as The Thirteenth Tale, though I was afraid to get my hopes up too high. While this one ultimately did not meet the heights of The Thirteenth Tale, it came darn close.

This story also begins a little slow. Set in 1899, Constance, our heroine, relates the sad story of her sister who died in childhood and her mother who has been depressed ever since. Attempting to help her mother move past her daughter's death, Constance brings her mother to a seance and pretends to be her dead sister. She "tells" her mother to move on, and shortly after her mother takes the advice a little too literally by killing herself. The death advertisement catches the attention of a John Montague. Mr. Montague contacts Constance and informs her that she has inherited a house, but he advises her to level the house, salt the earth, and never set foot on the property!

With this dire warning in mind, Constance's curiosity is piqued beyond control (as was mine!). Of course, she must know the reason and so she delves into the diaries and histories of the house Mr. Montague has left her with. The story turns back in time as Constance first reads the diary of a woman who lived in the house, and then the diary of Mr. Montague himself. It then turns full circle in a dramatic confrontation between the past and Constance's present. Murder, mystery, generational secrets, tyrannical madmen, and supernatural elements abound in this thoroughly engrossing tale.

The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill
Release Date: 1983
Publisher:  David R. Godine
Pages: 144
Author's Page
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page

I could have put the cover of the book here, but instead I put a movie still from the soon to be released film starring Harry Potter. I mean, Daniel Radcliffe. Who knew he could look so handsome?!

Though this book was written in 1983, it reads as if it were written in 1883. Susan Hill is a master wordsmith, evoking a style reminiscent of, dare I say it, Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. In case you are unsure, that is high praise indeed!

Set in Victorian times, Arthur Kipps is celebrating Christmas with his family, engaging in traditional tellings of ghostly tales on Christmas Eve. His family urges him to share his own true ghost story, but he refuses. Haunted by this past experience, Arthur finally sits down and puts pen to paper. The story of the woman in black is the telling of that tale. 

This story had me sleeping with the light on! Funny enough, I found the presence of a dog in this book (a little Jack Russel given to Arthur to keep him company and protect him) a very comforting presence. I'm totally afraid of ghosts, but I always tell myself that as long as my dog is cool, then there must not be any ghosts around. Silly, I know, but apparently Ms. Hill shares my sentiments. Without that cute little dog I think I would have been overwhelmed with fear! This book is so, so good. I can't wait for the movie version! I never would have thought it, but if Harry Potter looks like he does in that picture, then I think he'll be perfect in this role. Um, I mean Daniel Radcliffe. 

The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill
Release Date: December 11, 2007
Publisher:  Profile
Pages: 160
Author's Page
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page

Another Susan Hill book, this one isn't quite as good as The Woman in Black, but it's still a very good book in its own right. Another story within a story, this one follows a student as he listens to his old professor's experiences with a spooky painting. The story takes the reader back in time to mansions, forbidden love, paranormal occurrences, death, and tragedy all surrounding one scary, scary painting. A haunting story that will have you looking at artwork in a whole new way.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Have I convinced you to add any of these to your TBR?


  1. I love gothic fiction! The Thirteenth Tale is one of my favorite books.
    I have always been too afraid to read Susan Hill books :)

  2. Yay! Another Gothic fic and Thirteenth Tale lover!! Haha, I'm a TOTAL wimp and I was (mostly) ok reading Susan Hill :) It may be silly, but that little doggie really did help!

  3. I only read The Thirteenth Tale and LOVED it to death. Been recommending it like a mad woman to everyone who asked. I can't believe that's Radcliff!! Such a transformation!

    I'm writing down all the other gothic titles. I just love them. xD Great post!

  4. Thank you for highlighting a genre I don't know much about! I have always wanted to read The Thirteenth Tale, but I admit I hadn't heard of the rest of these. I may have to jump on this challenge!

  5. I haven't read any of these, actually, but Gothic fiction is SO fascinating! By the way...Harry Potter's looking good in that picture! I can't wait to see that flick :D

  6. Never tried that kind of books. I will keep my eyes open, in your way through the challenge!

  7. I loved the Thirteenth Tale. I didn't think anyone else did! Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Never heard of Gothic Fiction before, thanks for introducing me to a new type of book. I've always wanted to read the Thirteeth Tale, but never have. Can't wait to see what you put up for Young Adult Gothic Fiction!!!

  9. I have never really tried Gothic consciously, but I love the elements in some of the stories I read. I like this spotlight series :D

  10. I LOVE Gothic fiction.

    The Thirteenth Tale is one of my favourite books, and I also love The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Great choices!

  11. I'm trying to think if I have ever read something that is considered Gothic fiction. I don't believe I have. I would really love to read The Thirteenth Tale!

  12. Dazzling Mage, If you loved The Thirteenth Tale, then definitely be sure to check out some of these books! And I know! Harry Potter is all grown up!

    Logan, You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy them if you read any.

    Melissa, Yeah, he is looking good! I hope the movie is as good as the book (and doesn’t change a bunch of stuff around).

    Yiota, I’ll have some more Gothic fic posts coming in future Spotlights.

    Annette, come to my library and you can meet a bunch of people who love it too! I’ve pushed that book on so many people, but luckily they’ve all loved it. :)

    Gina, You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy the genre.

    AnimeGirl, I’m so glad you enjoy the Spotlighs! I know what you mean about not having read it consciously. It wasn’t until recently that I realized there was actually a genre for all those different elements.

    Leanna, Yay! How do you like Radcliffe for The Woman in Black? I can see him working.

    Aylee, I think you would enjoy The Thirteenth Tale.

  13. OMG! That is Daniel Radcliffe! *faints*

    This post is like taking a college seminar class. Love all the info here. I just had my first day of class last night and without a doubt, this post is more entertaining that what I sat through. Metafiction. Pfff!

    And this is just a guess, but seems like I'm really missing out by not having read The Thirteenth Tale. Right? ;)

  14. I think I am going to have to check out The Woman in sounds like a very satisfying Gothic tale & I'm glad to hear that the style is reminiscent of the older Gothic classics :)

    Plus, a movie of it with Daniel Radcliffe? Oh yeah.

  15. Missie, I know, right? Harry Potter is all grown up. (I so need to figure out a way to make a waggling eye brow smilie face).

    Not to knock your prof, but thank you! I'm glad you found this both helpful and entertaining. :D

    And, yes, you are so completely missing out on happiness and joy and wonderment and all good things in the world by not having read The Thirteenth Tale. Go read it now. Go. Shoo. (and don't blame me if you hate it!)

    Danya, Oh please do! I kept re-checking the copyright date it's written in such a convincingly old style. And, oh yeah, he seems perfect for the role. I wish I had known when I read the book so I could have pictured him looking like that.

  16. I absolutely adore Gothic Fiction, but my tastes run towards the older stuff. If you're a gothic fiction fan, you need to read Mary Stewart. Not the Merlin stuff, but Touch Not the Cat, Nine Coaches Waiting, Madam Will You Talk. They're wonderful.

  17. Rubita, You might like my next Spotlight List post (next Thursday) then! I'll be focusing on Gothic fiction classics. I'd love to hear your recs there.

    I only know of Mary Stewart through her Merlin series (which I couldn't get into). Thank you for introducing me to her Gothic books!

  18. Oh, read and *loved* The Thirteenth Tale: amazing. Loved it! Awesome selection of Gothic Books!


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