I fully admit that the reason I am writing this is I wanted to learn more about gothic fiction. To me, gothic fiction is crumbling estates, foggy moors, and a whole lot of “Nah, there’s nothing in the attic/basement/walls/locked room, why do you ask?” (Spoiler: YES, THERE IS.) When I think of gothic fiction, I think of Dark Shadows (but not the horrible movie) and Hammer Horror films. But it’s a bit more than that.
According to Wikipedia, gothic fiction “is a genre of literature and film that covers horror, death and at times romance. It is said to derive from the English author Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, later subtitled A Gothic Story.” Some of the most famous examples of gothic fiction include Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Gothic romance tends to be heavier on the — you guessed it — romance, and there’s southern gothic fiction, which appeared in the mid-19th century and tends to focus on grotesque and strange characters and situations in a Southern U.S. setting. Famous writers of southern gothic fiction include such as William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor.
With so many different offshoots of gothic fiction, what would qualify as genre-bending gothic fiction? If it can include vampires, mysteries, and kissing parts, isn’t that a whole lot of genres right there? After looking up all kinds of books labeled ‘gothic fiction’ and the like, my honest answer is: I think genre-bending gothic fiction can be just about anything gothic in nature, if it includes some of the right elements. And I’m playing fast and loose with the definition, because I just like to recommend books, no matter what genre they are. Which is good news for you, because now you can move on and check out this awesome list of genre-bending books you most definitely will want to read. There will be monsters, there will be crumbling architecture, there will be kissing parts. But most of all, there will be great reads.
So get in your gauzy gown and grab a goblet and your glasses, because here we go!
Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
Think Edward Scissorhands with dogs: A scientist alone in the colds of an isolated land, in a huge, dark estate, creates a breed of man-dogs. After he dies, the man-dogs live for a while in their home, but eventually find it necessary to come out of their hiding place and join the rest of civilization. Which has some people terrified and some people entranced.
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt
This is a gothic fable about a restless young man who decides to take on a little responsibility and becomes the Undermajordomo, assisting the Majordomo of a remote, foreboding castle of a Baron. He meets crooks, aristocrats, and the love of his life, and has wild adventures.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This seems obvious because it has “gothic” in the title, but I included it anyway. It’s about a young woman who travels to a remote mansion to check on her just-married cousin, who sent her an alarming letter. Not only does the house turn out to be spooky, but so does her cousin’s husband’s family lore. And there’s a whole lot of trouble of a fungal kind!
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
Speaking of fungal, this is another gothic fable about a town that seemingly falls under a dark spell, which means a gruesome end for several citizens. This is such a weird little book, but it’s so great.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Four generations of Silver women live in the large family estate full of tunnels and hidden secrets. It’s now a bed and breakfast, but it doesn’t stop the house from casting some kind of spell over the inhabitants — and becoming increasingly hostile to outsiders. Home is where the heart is — and where they’ll have to stay if they want theirs to keep beating.
Pym by Mat Johnson
Edgar Allan Poe is often discussed when people talk about Gothic fiction. This is about a literature professor who sets out on a journey to the South Pole to confirm the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and solve one of literature’s greatest mysteries.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
A missing children’s author, a secret society, a strange house…this book has all the makings of a grown-up gothic fairytale. What happened to the supposed tenth member of the Rabbit Back Literature Society, started by a renowned author, who herself is now missing? This book is so fun and weird and I have read it a few times and I am still not sure I entirely understand it, but I love it.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
You knew I would include this one! Gothic horror in SPACE. Gideon the Ninth is swordswoman to Harrowhark, the necromancer. When Harrow brings Gideon to the First House to fight with her for a chance at immortality at the Emperor’s side, they wind up in a decrepit mansion full of ghosts, skeleton servants, and bone constructs. They will have to figure out the secrets of the house before it kills them.
We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
We all live in a gothic submarine…Seriously, you have a submarine full of monks who attend church each day in a cathedral, a section of whom can sing like angels, and a menacing leader who stalks the halls in search of the answers to secrets. There’s even a section of the ship full of pale beings who stoke the fire of the submarine’s reactor. It’s underwater gothic fiction, for sure.
Two upcoming genre-bending recommendations I suggest you mark down now: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw and The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling (which coincidentally both come out on October 19). And for more Gothic reading recommendations, check out What is Gothic Fiction, 9 Gothic Novels for Every Mood, 50+ Must-Read Gothic Novels and Stories, A Beginner’s Guide to the Gothic Western Genre, and The Best Southern Gothic Books.