Autumn is finally rearing its head, bringing with it the transformation of the world around us. Especially at this point in the school year, we are craving a break from the ordinary. These gothic books touch upon important issues from history that are re-emerging in contemporary society. Issues of discrimination, hypocrisy, and increasing alienation from society are common themes in gothic literature. Whether you lean towards Victorian gothic, modern gothic, or regional gothic genres, it offers a critique of society, all the while leaving shivers down your spine.
Victorian gothic addresses the anxieties and ethical questions that arose with the rapid industrialization and scientific innovations of the Victorian era.
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
An explorer in the Arctic finds a young man out on the open ice, near death. This young man tells the story of his medical experiment – trying to bring the dead to life. The scientist’s creature, formed with parts salvaged from corpses, chases him, seeking revenge for being created in a world where no one looks like him or accepts him.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A lawyer receives a suspicious case when an old friend of his who became a doctor starts behaving strangely. A creepy young man becomes complicit in a variety of crimes. When the lawyer starts investigating the young man living with his old friend, some ugly truths come to light.
The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
When Dorian receives a portrait from Basil, he is overcome by his own mortality. As time progresses, he will only become uglier. In his vanity, Dorian wishes for the painting to age instead of his body. Time wages on and Dorian’s wish comes true. The painting grows corrupted as Dorian turns his soul to sin.
American gothic tends to focus on isolation in its many forms and the descent into insanity, exacerbated by rural life. Many American gothic works involve the aftermath of slavery by confronting struggles to establish independence, find belonging and forge a personal identity.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Janie tries her best to find a good husband but is met with abuse, racism and tragedy. The everyday parts of her life are interspersed with cruelty and evil, cementing the novel’s position within southern gothic literature. Despite these horrible experiences, Janie gains a sense of independence.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe is haunted by her memories of slavery. When her past threatens her future and that of her children, she makes a terrible choice. Now she is haunted by Beloved, the ghost of a daughter she had killed.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator is tasked with caring for an old man but finds the glare of his vulture eye to be unbearable. As the narrator commits the perfect crime, he finds himself betrayed by a pulsing under the floorboards. If you prefer audiobooks, Vincent Price (who voices the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”) has voiced a recording of this novel.
Canadian gothic addresses the struggles of immigration and the exploitation of cultures, sexism and hypocrisy.
Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
George, a Hungarian immigrant, marries Portia but experiences sexual tensions with Portia’s sisters Prue and Pamela. As George engages in sexual relations with each sister, the neat categories he has placed them into based on his fantasies start to collapse. This short story also addresses issues of cultural appropriation and exoticism.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Riots in Toronto transform the city into an impoverished region surrounded by wealth. Ti-Jeanne, an Afro-Caribbean woman, has a history of seers in her family. When her baby’s father, Tony, is pushed to commit murder for a powerful crime boss, they attempt to flee. Prepare for a story of spiritual traditions, manipulation and the importance of family.
Runaway by Alice Munro
Carla left behind a life of comfort in the upper-middle-class to elope with Clark. Having left behind her aspiration to become a veterinarian, she and Clark struggle financially. When she starts cleaning for her neighbour Sylvia, Carla faces growing tensions in her marriage, prompting a confrontation with the truth.
Modern gothic takes traditional gothic themes, such as isolation, loneliness, tragedy, the taboo and the preternatural, to a modern setting. It often deals with urbanization, the struggle of the individual in the metropolis, and personal identity.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
In the suburbs surrounding Detroit, the Lisbon sisters live in a beautiful house veiled in secrecy by their mother’s overprotectiveness. When Cecilia commits suicide, her sisters each cope in their own way while struggling with the challenges of adolescence. The story is told through the gaze of a group of neighbourhood boys who were obsessed with the Lisbon sisters but did not know them well.
Fledgling by Octavia Butler
Shori wakes up alone, starving and injured in a cave. She has no memory of who she is and wanders into a burned down village where she is taken in by Wright. Unable to control her hunger, she bites his hand and drinks his blood. Wright later realizes that Shori is not what she seems. Shori pursues her identity and eventually finds answers in a character from her past.
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
This book consists of three novellas, “The Diving Pool,” “The Pregnancy Diary” and “Dormitory.” Each novella deals with the challenges of otherness in the mundane. Ogawa reveals the loneliness of the outsider and the extremes that can crystallize from this experience. As the main characters in The Diving Pool make observations of the people around them, they dive deeper into their own absences and desires.