≡ Menu

Modern Gothic Fiction

The Gothic Novel outlines the conventions typical of the genre. A current mainstream fiction market example of this is Diane Setterfield’s The 13th Tale. Here’s the review from Publisher’s Weekly, posted on Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly
Former academic Setterfield pays
tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl
gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family
secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril.
Margaret Lea, a London bookseller’s daughter, has written an obscure
biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is
contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to
tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire,
where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate
at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman’s tale of a governess,
a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful
Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield:
destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy
parents; Isabelle’s twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the
children’s caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary
bunch of living people, Setterfield’s sensible heroine is, like Jane
Eyre, full of repressed feeling-and is unprepared for both heartache
and romance. And like Jane, she’s a real reader and makes a terrific
narrator. That’s where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives
in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.A lonely girl, abuse, evil, old house, etc., it’s all in Setterfield’s novel, albeit creatively and not in the stereotypical plot lines that the old gothics used.

The gothic genre seems to be creeping up in mainstream lately. I haven’t read Jennifer Egan’s “The Keep,” but I listened to her interview on KCRW’s Bookworm (via podcast). Here’s the Amazon Publisher’s Weekly post on it:

From Publishers Weekly
Claustrophobic paranoia, intentionally mediocre writing and a transparent gimmick dominate Egan’s follow-up to Look at Me,
centered on estranged cousins who reunite in Eastern Europe. Danny, a
36-year-old New York hipster who wears brown lipstick (and whose body
can detect Wi-Fi availability), accepts his wealthy cousin Howard’s
invitation to come to Eastern Europe and help fix up the castle Howard
plans on turning into a luxury Luddite hotel (check your cell at the
door). In doing so, Danny can’t help recalling the childhood prank he
played on a young Howie that left the awkward adolescent nearly dead-or
so writes Ray, the druggie inmate who’s penning this
novel-within-a-novel for his prison writing workshop. Subsequent
chapters alternate between Danny’s fantastical castle travails (it’s
home to a caustic baroness bent on preserving her family seat) and
Ray’s prison drama. There are funny asides and trappings (particularly
digital technology) along the way, and the sendup of castle narratives
generates some chuckles. But the connection between the two narratives,
which Egan reveals in intentionally tawdry fashion, feels telegraphed
from the first chapter, making for a frustrating read. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.A common plot device between these two novels is the story-within-a-story, with chapters alternating between either the past and present or a parellel fiction and the present “reality.” In my cursory research into the gothic conventions, I haven’t found this to be historically a recurring theme. Perhaps it is the new defining characteristic of the modern gothic genre?

Currently I’m reading Possession, by A.S. Byatt. The subject matter is Victorian and there exists elements of gothic romance, but the tie-in here is that A.S. Byatt writes a story-within-a-story by parallelling the current scholars’ lives with their subjects’ lives and illicit romance. Here’s Amazon’s Publisher’s Weekly review:

From Publishers Weekly
The English author of Still Life
fuses an ambitious and wholly satisfying work, a nearly perfect novel.
Two contemporary scholars, each immersed in the study of one of two
Victorian poets, discover evidence of a previously unimagined
relationship between their subjects: R. H. Ash and Christabel LaMotte
had secretly conducted an extramarital romance. The scholars,
“possessed” by their dramatic finds, cannot bring themselves to share
their materials with the academic community; instead, they covertly
explore clues in the poets’ writings in order to reconstruct the affair
and its enigmatic aftermath. Byatt persuasively interpolates the
lovers’ correspondence and “their” poems; the journal entries and
letters of other interested parties; and modern-day scholarly analysis
of the period. One of the poets is posthumously dubbed “the great
ventriloquist”; because of Byatt’s success in projecting diverse and
distinct voices, it is tempting to apply the label to her as well.
Merely to do so, however, would ignore even greater skills: her superb
and perpetually surprising plotting; her fluid transposition of
literary motifs to an infinite number of keys; her amusing and
mercifully indirect criticism of current literary theories; and her
subtle questioning of the ways readers and writers shape, and are
shaped by, literature.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
–This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
I’ll let you know if Possession can squeeze into what I’m dubbing as the “split-story gothic” genre. I’ll continue to look for examples of the gothic, and please comment/link me if you have come across any type of current mainstream gothic yourself.

Perhaps I’ll post another day about psychology of reading in terms of timing and tension-release, and how embedded stories work magic in these areas, and why they can be fun to read. For now, I look forward to your comments and researching this development in terms of my own novel.