What is gothic lit exactly? People are sometimes torn — but there are certain commonalities. The main character is usually isolated, either in a mansion or cottage or boarding school, or in a world of characters who have knowledge they can’t access, or both. There are secrets. There’s a creeping, a suspense. The big twists will be saved for the end, because in the gothic narrative, the whole point is the dread, the certainty that something is wrong — the impossibility of being able to prove it.
In recent years, the gothic genre — once considered the realm of white, Victorian-era protagonists — has had a resurgence as writers use the ideas of isolation and unforgiving communities in new ways. You pull up to a dark mansion, a Mexican woman, the guest of a white British family with their own secrets. You’re a woman in a misogynist world that won’t share its rumors with you. You’re young and followed by ghosts that you can’t shake, that your family won’t let you shake. Inaccessibility, isolation, fear, have all caught hold in new versions of the gothic genre (Get Out is prime gothic horror).
So this October…join the party. The eerie party. A party with punch that doesn’t taste quite right, and you can’t find the friend you came with, and the people keep giving you weird looks. A party where you aren’t quite sure how you’re getting home. Come on in…it’s fun!
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Mexican government has been overthrown, and Beatriz is at a loss. In a man’s world, Beatriz needs to marry as quickly as possible to ensure that she can be safe and secure moving forward. So when the recently widowed Don Rodolfo Solórzano proposes, she jumps at the opportunity. But was it a mistake to move to Hacienda San Isidro? What actually happened to his first wife? Isolated, haunted by voices, it begins to dawn on Beatriz that maybe this house is even more dangerous than the one she left behind.
Content warnings for violence, death, rape, racism, abortion, parental death.
Madam by Phoebe Wynne
Rose Christie is excited to be the first hire in quite a long time at infamous, old-fashioned, traditional Caldonbrae boarding school in Scotland. She gets ready to dive into teaching a group of young women all about the classics in her own feminism-informed way. But then things start getting…weird. Caldonbrae’s administration takes on power of attorney for Rose’s mother without asking. People are clearly keeping secrets. It seems like even the girls know something she doesn’t about the school. As she discovers dark, awful secrets about the school, she has to try and figure out if she can save any of her students — or if it’s already too late even to save herself.
Content warnings for suicide, sexual assault, adult/minor relationship, child abuse, homophobia, racism.
Tripping Arcadia by Kit Mayquist
Lena’s family is on the verge of collapse. Her father was injured and fired, and they need any money they can get to avoid absolute ruin. So when the Verdeau family needs someone to come on board as some sort of caretaker/assistant/servant, she jumps at the chance. But at their lavish mansion, between caring for a sickly son and trying to keep the family’s screwups out of the headlines, she starts to unravel a web of secrets that could change everything. Will Lena be able to avoid the charms of sexy Audrey Verdeau? Will she be able to save her family without being buried by one of the most illustrious families in Boston? You’ll have to read to find out!
Content warnings for substance abuse, suicidal ideation, classism, violence, self-harm.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
There aren’t enough Edgar Allan Poe retellings in the world — but T. Kingfisher decided to help us out with that problem with this satisfyingly creepy rendition of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Alex is a retired soldier who just wants to visit a dying childhood friend, Madeline Usher, at her family home. But when Alex arrives, it’s immediately clear that something is deeply wrong. Alex and new friend, mycologist Eugenia Potter, must figure out what’s wrong with the house before it’s taken over from the inside by a shuddering, atmospheric, fungal horror.
Content warnings for body horror, animal death, suicide, transphobia.
The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller
Charm is a necromancer, a witch, imprisoned, caring for the mysterious bone trees around her property, and working as the madam of a whorehouse for the powerful nobles of Borenguard (just one thing: the whores aren’t exactly…real). And every Tuesday, the Emperor visits, and sleeps with Charm herself. Except for this Tuesday. This time, Charm is forced to visit the Emperor on his deathbed. He wants her to figure out which of his sons killed him. In exchange, she’ll be released from her prison. As she sets out to uncover this twisty, tangled mystery, the reader solves their own mystery of what exactly the bone trees are, what Charm herself is, and how it will all come together.
Content warnings for violence, suicide, pedophilia, rape, forced institutionalization, parental death.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House is the ultimate boarding school of the power-hungry. The deal: in exchange for the prestige and success you’ll get after graduation, you commit to spending not just four years there, but all three summers. You don’t get to go home. You will be with Catherine House until it’s time to be granted the success they promised you.
When Ines first arrives, she loves it there. She thought it would be rigid and boring, but finds the students have rich, fun social lives. She and her slightly out-of-place, striving-for-acceptance roommate Baby grow close. But when something happened to Baby, Ines is forced to take a harder look at Catherine House and its strangeness. Is there something darker lurking behind its rules?
Content warnings for forced institutionalization, substance abuse, animal cruelty, suicide.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
If I had a nickel for every Sarah Gailey book I fell in love with, I’d have a nickel for every book they’ve written. Just Like Home was no exception. Vera has come home at her mother’s request. She didn’t want to come home. After all, her father was a serial killer, and she loved him, and she’s never quite dealt with the fallout. Not to mention, the town hates her for her connection to him — and her mother for turning the house into a tourist attraction.
But now Vera’s back, taking care of her terminally ill mother and trying to help prepare the house for vacancy. Except that she keeps finding notes in her father’s handwriting. And she’s pretty sure that something’s hiding under her bed at night. Is her father’s ghost — or that of his victims — actually at rest? Or are there more secrets to uncover?
Content warnings for body horror, torture, violence, emotional abuse, parental death.
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
Mira was happy to leave her small Southern town behind a long time ago. Now she’s returning home for a good friend’s wedding, which will be held on the rumored-to-be-haunted Woodsman plantation. She’s excited to see Celine, not to mention Jesse — her old crush, who she hasn’t seen since the night he almost got arrested because of a dare-gone-wrong. Unfortunately, the three of them quickly find out that despite the plantation’s attempts to erase all of its darkest history, the place is very much still haunted — by modern racism as well as ghosts of the not-so-distant past.
Content warnings for racism, slavery, torture, rape.
When the Night Bells Ring by Jo Kaplan
Climate disaster is worse than ever, and two refugees are trying to get out east to escape the worst of the heat. In desperation, they try to get down into the mines of a ghost town, in hopes that there will be water pooling in there. But then a ladder breaks, and they’re trapped in the darkness with nothing but broken bones and a mysterious old diary to read, they begin to regret their choices. Not to mention, the diary speaks of a time when the town was haunted by a curse of strange creatures that sucked people dry. A curse that came from the mine itself.
Content warnings for violence, claustrophobia, body horror, child death, ableism, sexual assault.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-García
Tough, stubborn socialite Noemí goes to the High Place determined to bring her cousin home. Ever since her cousin married into this English family and their mansion up in the mountains, Noemí and her father have been receiving disturbing letters from her about something dark going on in the mansion. Now, Noemí confronts the truth of the isolated place — from the stiff, private family occupying the mansion, who insist that her sister is just fine, to her eerie dreams of mushrooms and slime, to a final conviction that all is definitely not right at High Place.
Content warnings for sexual assault, racism, body horror, violence.
Want to dig in further? Here’s a bonus read:
Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul by Leila Taylor
What is the gothic narrative, and how can the gothic genre fit into Black America? How is gothic horror essentially American — from violent secrets hidden beneath floorboards to crumbling, once “great” houses haunted by generational crime? How does slavery continue to haunt the stories America tells itself today, particularly in the realm of the gothic narrative? In these essays, Leila Taylor digs into all of it. Her new book of memoir-slash-literary analysis is an insightful investigation into her own complicated love of all things gothic and into what it means to be Black and Goth.
Content warnings for racism, violence, racist language and violence.
Want more creepy book recommendations this fall season? Check out our lists of the 25 most influential horror novels, 18 great new horror reads, or eight horror novels about grief. Alternatively, dig deep with me into why horror novels are so obsessed with mushrooms, or into why it matters that horror protagonists make bad decisions.