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. Continue reading “A Foray into Gothic Fiction”
It was my idea, after all. Lately as we’ve seen readers and filmgoers gobbling up great twisty psychological suspense such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I kept thinking they should make a fresh version Daphne Du Maurier’s classic tale of the devious anti-heroine known as My Cousin Rachel. Sixty-five years after its original publication, the book stands up extremely well, and makes a terrific suggestion for fans of gothic film and fiction including such modern descendants as Kate Morton, Sarah Waters, Lauren Forrey, Eleanor Wasserberg, Catronia Ward, John Harwood. I mean, it pretty much has it all – lush historical trappings, an irresistible villainess, passion, poison – and it is desperately overdue for a fresh version. Check out the trailer for this 1952 potboiler starring Olivia deHavilland and “bright new star” Richard Burton (“Was she woman, or witch!? Madonna or murderess!? … She gives men the promise of ecstasy, and a life of torment!”)
Hugely fun on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but we’re definitely ready for something a bit more contemporary. I can’t wait to see the new film with Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin, which looks gorgeous and treacherous, as it should:
In the 1970s “gothic” fiction book covers featured a girl in a diaphanous gown running away from a castle/mansion at night — during a storm. Perhaps Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is the most famous of the older gothic novels. In this classic story the “new” Mrs. de Winter cannot overcome the feeling that she’s not welcome at Manderley and nearly loses her life trying to discover how the first Mrs. de Winter died. Rebecca is still enjoyed by readers now, only with a new cover. The recently reanimated gothic novel is moody and creepy: a story in which a young woman is absorbed by something mysterious from the past that puts her in present danger. Usually a historic building of some sort is involved and often there’s a romance; the women are strong and assertive and the men are very careful not to overtly rescue them.
Susanna Kearsley is billed as both a romantic suspense and a historical fiction writer, though I prefer to think of her as one of a new breed of gothic storytellers. My current Kearsley favorite is The Winter Sea, a chilly tale set in present-day Scotland about a writer who rents a cottage near an old castle on the northeastern coast in hopes of finishing her book, which is set in the same area. She is beset by dreams about the people who lived in the castle during the Jacobite Rebellion and tension mounts as the dreams become more vivid, clouding her perception of the present. An equally atmospheric treatment of shared memory experiences plays out in The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans. In northern Scotland, Freya Dane, an archaeology PhD candidate from Australia, hopes to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and death. He bequeathed the tiny island of Findnar to her and a cryptic letter hints at something buried there that only Freya can find. Her visions tell her he was right.
In The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, family secrets lure Edie Burchell to Milderhurst castle, where she hopes to discover what happened to her mother there during World War II. A mysterious letter has just arrived, 50 years late, that’s rather upset her mom. It is from one of the spinster sisters who still lives in what is now a very creepy castle complete with hidden passageways and the ambience of Miss Haversham’s cobwebbed bedroom. In A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore, when Jude finds a dream job appraising an astronomer’s library, she also winds up sharing recurring dreams with her niece and a living nightmare inside a creepy old observatory.
Not quite romance, suspense, mystery, fantasy or horror but a genre blend, gothic novels are a great escape from the rigors of summer vacation!