Crumbling castles. Cursed families. Doomed romance. Gloomy moors. My god, always the moors. Ever since those tragic events at The Castle of Otranto and Emily St. Aubert’s harrowing experiences in The Mysteries of Udolpho, we’ve been hooked on the moody, supernaturally laced glamour of gothic horror.
While you’re welcome to revisit the classics when you need some uneasy suspense, there are any number of recent novels ready to ratchet up the vintage gothic fright. Here’s just a few.
Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Moreno-Garcia never writes the same book twice. Her latest manages to meld many of the characteristics from her previous works of fantasy, thriller, and horror into a historical gothic ride. In 1950s Mexico, privileged and rebellious Noemí Taboada receives a distressing letter from her cousin Catalina, pleading for a rescue from the country estate of her new husband’s family. When Noemí arrives at gloomy High Place, she finds a cloistered English family as hostile to her glamorous lifestyle (and, uncomfortably, her skin color) as they are to her questions about her cousin’s health. To rescue Catalina, she’ll dig into the family’s hushed past and survive some truly creepy and gross occurrences in the remote house.
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
Who wants another cursed ancestral homestead and long-buried family secrets? Everyone, yes, of course. This time, the estate in question is Hundreds Hall, a once-great house now brought to ruin in post-WWII England. In mood, the story is gothic in the long-standing traditions of the genre; its plot, though, will feel familiar and comfortable to readers of mystery writers like Wilkie Collins. When Doctor Faraday is summoned to Hundreds Hall, he finds a situation much changed from his last childhood visit. The house and grounds are in shambles, and the resident Ayres family is reclusive, diminished in its own right. There’s more than aristocratic collapse at work. Something unnatural haunts the family, and Faraday is about to get an eyewitness view.
Starve Acre, Andrew Michael Hurley
Hurley begins his modern gothic take with an ode to the genre’s most confounding plot device: protagonists with tremendously poor decision-making skills. Richard and Juliette have inherited the isolated rural home of his childhood. It is situated on the Yorkshire moors (!), is called Starve Acre, and has a troublesome history. They decide to move in anyway. Soon enough, they’re grieving the sudden death of their 5-year-old son, Ewan. That grief takes the couple in different directions. Juliette falls in with a local spiritualist group, desperately seeking Ewan’s ghost. Richard throws himself into an archaeological hunt for the infamous hanging tree that once stood on the grounds. Neither is headed for a happy ending.
Editor’s Note: Starve Acre is not yet in print in the US, so purchasing options are limited – we recommend you also take a look at Hurley’s two previous novels, Devil’s Day and The Loney, which are similarly gothic.
Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand
The horror in this novella is more atmospheric than explicit, in true gothic form. But grandiose Wylding Hall is disquieting not because you see its ghosts but because you know they’re coming from the start. The story is told as an oral history of a ‘70s summer when a folk-rock band booked themselves into an old country estate to write and regroup. Because the surviving members of the band are recounting the story of that summer years afterward — and because, you know, drugs were involved — the strange happenings at Wylding Hall take a while to come into focus. But the haunting is there. The haunting is something that can’t be denied because Julian Baker, the group’s charismatic lead singer, isn’t there — hasn’t been seen, in fact, since disappearing in the house.
Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enríquez
This unusual set of short stories doesn’t look like your traditional gothic work. But all the hallmarks of gothic horror are here, draped over the true-life terrors of poverty, crime, and political strife, like a supernatural miasma in modern Argentina. Gothic tales are pockmarked by damsels in distress; Enríquez focuses her attention on the tortured inner lives of girls and women — trapped by class and station or by the expectations of unobservant, distant men. There are no romantic heroes to rescue the women in these stories from decaying mansions or towns gone mad. Whether any of them manage to save themselves is entirely up to your interpretation.