Something about the pandemic has put me on a vicious horror binge, and apparently I’m not alone—just look at the buzz around Haunted TikTok. Some reports are even saying horror fans are proving more resilient in the face of the pandemic, so maybe we’re all just intuitively doing some psychological homework.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been on an especially strong kick to rediscover gothic lately, and fresh, modern voices have taken me far beyond Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Full of pent-up emotion and psychological tensions, the feminist gothic genre has long been an outlet to explore the cracks in society—the ways we repress, suppress, and oppress; the things we refuse to address head-on. In gothic stories, there is a reckoning with a past that simply cannot let us live in peace.
If these themes resonate for you in the face of all the year has brought so far, here are five 2020 releases to get you started:
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
In this heavily buzzed summer release, a young socialite discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico. When Neomi’s newlywed cousin writes to her begging for help, claiming her husband is trying to poison her and she keeps having menacing visions, Neomi departs from her posh life in Mexico City and to the remote estate. The house is strange from the first—it’s overrun with mold and the servants won’t speak. Neomi can see right away her cousin is losing her mind. But then Neomi starts to hear the voices, too.
As if the fresh take on beloved gothic conventions wasn’t enough, this story’s heroine is at once chic, unconventional, smart, tough—and wholly memorable.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
The premise of this one requires a leap of faith, so strange itself that the reader is already a little off kilter at the start: Catherine House is a highly selective (and secretive) college alternative educational program. You give yourself to Catherine House for three years—no TV, no internet, no music, no leaving. But then, its graduates go on to be Supreme Court justices, renowned authors, presidents, and all sorts of leading minds of the world.
Just don’t look too closely at the new materials department.
Ines doesn’t care about any of this, only that she gets to escape from her terrible past. At first, she’s only interested in distracting herself from the secret she has buried with parties, drinking, and sex, but slowly the school’s magnetic secrets draw her in. Like a car crash, you know something terrible is about to happen, but still you can’t look away.
On Sundays, She Picked Flowers by Yah Yah Scholfield
Judith escapes her mother to Georgia countryside, where a kindly innkeeper gives her a cabin to live in. Here, Judith begins her titular Sunday ritual of picking flowers, which leads her into the woods, introduces her to strange characters within, and in particular, to Nemoira.
In a complicated narrative about the damage we can do to one another—especially within a family—and the closure and healing of moving past it, this atmospheric story offers a captivating dive into transformation, healing and reckoning.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Decades ago, Carly’s aunt Viv disappeared while working at the Sun Down Motel. Carly can’t let go of the strange story, so she moves to the town and starts investigating. Oddly, the motel doesn’t seem to have changed since 1982, the year Vivian disappeared. Through a dual narrative that stretches through time, the reader unravels the mystery of an old motel full of terrible secrets and a string of related murders.
House of Whispers by Laura Purcell
In this period story, Louise Pinecroft is sent away for the most Victorian of reasons—consumption has killed most of her family, leaving only herself and her father. For his part, Dr. Pinecroft believes that the cure for the disease is the sea air, and to prove it he invites a set of prisoners with consumption to the caves of their Cornish seaside home, and Louise become enchanted with the tales of fairies her maid tells her.
Decades later, Hester comes to care for a mute and partially paralyzed older Louise as an escape from her past—but the history of the place she has landed at may prove even more dangerous.