Reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in 7th grade was a formative moment for me: I learned the vocabulary word sepulchre; I was deliciously creeped out. It wasn’t until this year, though, that I realized Rebecca was part of a larger type of fiction that I really, consistently enjoy: Gothic fiction. The good news for readers like me – those who love creepy old mansions, sinister family secrets and the sense that something is not quite right – is that there are a steady crop of titles to keep us busy. This year I’ve read two titles that I’d like to suggest you snuggle up with on a cold and dreary night.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Young Hal is struggling to get by, working as a tarot card reader at Brighton Pier and in debt to a ruthless loan shark. She receives a notice that her grandmother has died and left her a bequest in the will – except Hal’s grandparents are long dead, so it must be a mistake. She travels to the family estate anyway, hoping to employ the same cold reading skills she uses in her work to con her way into a little inheritance. Instead, she finds herself in over her head in another family’s twisted history of secrets. Hal is a great character to root for, struggling with grief over her mother’s death and the daily realities of being poor and alone, and the Westaways are a fascinating, unhappy, secretive family. Add in the hulking gothic mansion and a sinister housekeeper, and I was hooked. Atmospheric and genuinely surprising.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
In 1860s England, Elsie, pregnant and recently widowed, travels to the crumbling country estate of her husband’s family. Kept company by only a few servants and her husband’s maiden cousin, Elsie discovers a realistic life-size wooden figure in the attic garret. As the figure and others like it begin popping up around the house, seemingly moving around on their own, grisly deaths begin to occur. Where did these silent companions come from? Is Elsie going crazy? Or is something more sinister at play? This book is deeply, consistently creepy, with a suspenseful tone that made me want to read it with all the lights on. A great take on the Gothic ghost story.
Two more titles that I haven’t read yet, but am excited to crack into, are The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton and Melmoth by Sarah Perry. And then I need to finally pick up Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House.
~ posted by Andrea G.