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13 Great Modern Gothic Novels

It’s hard to pin down what exactly constitutes a “Gothic” novel. Does it have to fall in the horror genre? Does it have to include elements of the supernatural? I personally think that any book with dark elements, a sense of “place” as character, a dose of the weird and bizarre and a strong psychological angle is definitely on its way to being classed as “Gothic.” For the purpose of this list of my top 13 Modern Gothic novels, I’ve kept the definition fairly broad – there’s a big mix of genres in there, so hopefully there’s something for everyone looking for a taste of modern Gothic.

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13. “Rosemary's Baby” (Ira Levin, 1967)


This book has been a huge influence on contemporary horror and thriller writers, although it does feel a little dated now, in my opinion – pagans and wiccans will probably cringe at the conflation of Paganism with Satanism, although that’s fairly common in horror of that era. Nevertheless, it does a great job of recalling classic gothic – an old, sinister house, a young woman subject to the exploitation of others, a focus on psychological horror and a big pinch of supernatural. It also succeeds in being really disturbing and chilling. DO NOT read if you’re an expectant parent!

12. “Lost Souls” (Poppy Z Brite, 1992)


One of the must-read modern vampire novels, which also has a heavy focus on the Gothic subculture so there’s lots for Goths to enjoy. A tale of sex, corruption, love and the supernatural. The characters are fascinating and memorable, and the writing itself is beautifully original. One criticism I would give, however, is that at times this book really does cross the line into territories that make for very uncomfortable reading – think rape, incest and paedophilia. The veil of glamour that hangs over the immorality of the characters doesn't help. However, it’s still a very compelling read.

11. “The Magic Toyshop” (Angela Carter, 1967)


Angela Carter is probably my favourite author of all time, and while her early work “The Magic Toyshop” is not one of my favourites, it’s one of her most Gothic – it’s about a young girl forced from a life of luxury and plenty into a dark household ruled by a tyrannical toy-maker. As you’d expect from Angela Carter, the language and imagery is sublime, the characters are intriguing and there’s lots of references to mythology and folk tales.

10. “The Woman in Black” (Susan Hill, 1983)

If you were to read this novella without knowing the publication date, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was written in the Victorian period. It is a conscious imitation of the classical Gothic story, right down to the setting and language used. The plot will be familiar to anyone who’s read plenty of ghost stories – a man is sent away to a far-off creepy old mansion in a town keeping a dark secret. The story is chilling, gripping and pleasurably easy to read, with a very likable protagonist (Daniel Radcliffe did a great job of portraying him in the film version, in my opinion). It also has with some lovely descriptions of the eerily beautiful marsh in which the book is set. I would also recommend going to see the play – it’s guaranteed to make you jump!

9. “Tokyo” (Mo Hayder, 2004)


Is “Tokyo” a Gothic novel? At its heart, it’s a pure crime-thriller, but its protagonist is what lends it a Gothic edge – the extremely disturbed young woman, nicknamed “Grey,” a former patient of a mental hospital who travels to Japan to pursue her obsession with lost footage taken from the Rape of Nanking. The world that Grey encounters on her search is also dark and gritty: Japan’s underworld of yakuza gangsters and seedy hostess bars. There’s plenty of moments of real fear and suspense too, most of them surrounding the grotesque characters such as the terrifying “Nurse” who cares for the main antagonist. It’s a really compelling and highly readable tale that will have you turning the pages at breakneck speed to find out what happens next.

(For some reason, I can only find the American edition, entitled “The Devil of Nanking,” on Amazon).

8. “The Mists of Avalon”


A fantasy epic based on the legends of King Arthur. What gives The Mists of Avalon its Gothic edge is its focus on pre-Christian traditions and beliefs, with plenty of magic and references to the Mother Goddess. The central character is Morgaine (a.k.a Morgan Le Fey) who is portrayed as a gifted and intelligent tragic heroine rather than the wicked witch of the traditional legends (Gwenhwyfar, in contrast, is neurotic and fanatical). A marvellous work blending mythology, feminism and a refreshing perspective on witchcraft.

7. “The Wasp Factory” (Iain Banks, 1984)


The utterly chilling yet utterly gripping novel that firmly established the late Iain Banks’ place among the great Scottish authors. It introduces us to Frank, an extremely disturbed sixteen year old living with his father on an isolated Scottish island, and his life of murder, bizarre rituals and animal cruelty. The book, told from Frank’s perspective, is wonderfully written, with not a single gruesome detail left out. It’s also filled with dark humour, and (as one might expect from Iain Banks) a touch of weird science. Finally, there’s a very strange twist at the end – see if you can work out what it is as you read…

6. “Fight Club” (Chuck Palahniuk, 1996)


Palahniuk is in some ways similar to Banks – gruesome, shocking and darkly humorous. Although it lacks the supernatural or macabre elements of most of the other books on this list, I would still count “Fight Club” as something of a modern Gothic due to its exploration of psychology and identity, its anti-authoritarian characters, and its black humour – laugh out loud hilarious in places. This book is famous for its impressive twisted ending, which in my opinion is much cleverer and convincing in the original than in the movie remake (which is still a good movie, nevertheless).

5. “Good Omens” (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, 1990)


One of the funniest books I’ve ever read, “Good Omens” shows the magic that can happen when two talented authors joins forces and create something that surpasses the sum of its parts. Based roughly on “The Omen” (although it’s still immensely enjoyable even if you’re not familiar with the original), it combines Pratchett’s talent for parody and snarky humour with Gaiman’s dark and wild creativity. One of the greatest strengths of this novel is probably its characters – the book-loving angel Aziraphale, the exceptionally cool demon Crowley, and the reluctant Antichrist. You’ll fall in love with them all.

4. “The Night Circus” (Erin Morgenstern, 2011)


This book is the literary equivalent of sitting in your pyjamas on a cold Boxing Day afternoon and eating Chocolate Orange – indulgent, comforting and highly pleasurable. Something like a children’s book for adults, “The Night Circus” will transport you into a magical world of the mysterious black and white circus filled with dreamlike, wondrous exhibits, fortune tellers and real life enchanters. Light and spellbinding, this book may lack the philosophical depth or dark imagery of the other books on this list, but it’s so enjoyable that (if you’re like me at any rate) you’ll find yourself reading it over and over. An unusually happy entry in the world of Gothic literature.

3. “Perfume” (Patrick Süskind, 1985)


Like “The Woman In Black,” “Perfume” is written in the style and language of the classical Gothic novel. Set in 18th century France, follows the life, from birth to death, of Grenouille, a man gifted with a supernaturally sensitive nose. A creature who never knows love, Grenouille inspires a huge array of conflicting emotions in the reader as the story unfolds – pity, admiration, revulsion and terror – but throughout remains a fascinating character. Aside from Grenouille, the book’s appeal lies in its delicious descriptions of scent; you really do feel like you can experience exactly what Grenouille experiences in his olfactory world. As with all Gothic horror, the book gets more and more disturbing as the plot progresses towards its gruesome, yet satisfying conclusion. A wild and twisted read.

2. “The Prestige” (Christopher Priest, 1995)


This is the story of two magicians, and their rivalry surrounding an incredible magic trick. If that premise alone doesn’t grab you, there’s plenty that will – the beautiful and slick writing style, the intriguing twists and turns, the ambiguous nature of the various narrators and their moral standpoints, or the mysterious world of dingy Victorian theatres with a touch of steampunk thrown in, where the story takes place. It’s quite a long novel, but I found myself reading it twice in as many months – it’s that good. Amazingly, the 2006 movie version is in some ways even better. I believe both are unmissable for fans of the strange and mysterious.

1. “Interview with the Vampire” (Anne Rice, 1976)


I don’t care that this book has become so popular it’s almost cliché. I honestly think this is the best Gothic novel to have been written in the last 50 years. And the influence of novel on vampire fiction, and indeed the Gothic subculture (which didn’t really even exist when the book was written), is undeniable. It tells the story of Louis’ transformation into a vampire, his slow adaptation to “life” as one of the undead, and his relationship with the many fascinating characters he meets including the charismatic Lestat and the complex vampire-child Claudia. Thanks to this novel, vampires took on a whole new character in the popular imagination – no longer mere stock monsters of horror, but exciting, romantic and sexy supernatural beings. Although the book could have easily slid into indulgence into debauchery and sensuality (much like “Lost Souls” does), it stays grounded in some serious discussions of morality, spirituality and society. To top it all off, the language is pristinely beautiful, and each episode of Louis’ life highly memorable. THE modern must-read Gothic novel (the other books in Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” aren’t bad either).

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