There are probably some differing opinions out there on what exactly “gothic literature” entails. For my purposes, I’m just going to say it’s fiction that has a setting that’s at least in part dark and possibly supernatural (or just hints at it or seems like it), is infused with a sense of foreboding, and has a mystery or secret that is revealed by the end. I am a big fan of the surprise twist, and I LOVE to be caught off-guard at the end, completely unable to guess the twist. If I can guess, the book just isn’t fun for me.
So I have found myself to be enamored by really well-spun gothic stories. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise to me now, considering how much I devoured all of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales when I was a teen. Now, though, I enjoy stories that are a bit less macabre and more about the very well-kept secret. When these secrets are deeply buried in an old noble family somewhere in England living in a crumbling-down mansion, all the better.
So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite gothic novels.
- Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier. I read this classic book sometime in my late teens, I think, and it got me hooked on the twist.
- The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. A friend handed this to me to read, and I feel eternally indebted to her. What an amazing story! I don’t know if Setterfield will ever write another book, but if she doesn’t, that will be fine because this is a masterpiece of gothic literature. A mysterious, reclusive writer with a strange past finally decides to tell the truth about her life, and it is full of some shocking twists. Weird old family in old house? Check. Buried secrets? Check, check, check. It just doesn’t get better than this.
- The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I came across this a few years after reading The Thirteenth Tale, and I found this was probably came in right behind that in pure awe and satisfaction. Another masterpiece. Zafón has written two novels in a series after this, continuing and enlarging upon the story and the setting, and they’ve been pretty good, but honestly not the triumph that the first was. Again, the setting is the past, and the story is permeated with mystery hanging over it like a mist. The twist is great, I loved how it all came together, and the writing is superb.
- The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. Morton has now written a number of really fine gothic stories, all set in England in old estates, with buried family secrets. The first, The House at Riverton, was a good example, but her second really nailed it. I am glad that she’s managed to keep writing. I don’t think any of her books is quite as amazing as Diane Setterfield’s one great story, but they’re all quite good, and I am just grateful she’s providing more stories for me to relish.
- The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Since this story is about Dracula, this could almost be considered a horror tale, but it really has more elements of what I consider gothic. That infamous vampire rarely appears in the book, and the story revolves around some historians who are trying to hunt him down in the mostly present day. The story takes readers on a wonderful and intense journey around the globe, into rooms filled with old books and documents, slowly revealing information and ending in a satisfying manner. I savored the journey and was sad when it was over. I was also sad when Kostova wrote another book and it wasn’t at all what I had hoped in tone or story (and THAT is probably why Diane Setterfield has turned Harper Lee on us).
What do you think? What other great gothic tales (my definition) am I missing?
I’m a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is RatedReads.com. I’m a mom of four and grandma of three.