I love reading gothic books in cold seasons. Autumn and winter are perfect for gothic books because the ambience is already there with crunchy leaves, candles, dark skies and long nights. I never read horror books because I’m a scaredy-cat, but gothic books are fine as long as they are not on the extreme horror side. I also never read romance, so mixing these two in a perfect genre is excellent for me.
But what is gothic literature? According to Wikipedia:
Gothic fiction, sometimes called Gothic horror in the 20th century, 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”. Early contributors included Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, William Thomas Beckford and Matthew Lewis. It tends to stress emotion and a pleasurable terror that expands the Romantic literature of the time. The common “pleasures” were the sublime, which indescribably “takes us beyond ourselves.”
I tried to include various styles and authors on this gothic books list, but European and American authors mainly dominate gothic literature. You’ll find modern classics, new favourites, the weird ones and the ones that’ll stay with you. I hope you can find gothic books to your liking. Enjoy!
20 Captivating Gothic Books for Cold Nights
The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell
Some doors are locked for a reason…
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself… One of the gothic books that is on the scarier part.
Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield
A good example of modern gothic books. A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories – Angela Carter
Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition.
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism. A classic among gothic books.
Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family. One of the most popular gothic books.
Beloved – Toni Morrison
It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece. An important one among gothic books.
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, its owners – mother, son and daughter – struggling to keep pace. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his. One that is set in rural England among gothic books.
Things We Lost in the Fire – Mariana Enriquez
Thrilling and terrifying, Things We Lost in the Fire takes the reader into a world of Argentine Gothic. A world of sharp-toothed children and young girls racked by desire, where demons lurk beneath the river and stolen skulls litter the pavements. A world where the secrets half-buried under Argentina’s terrible dictatorship rise up to haunt the present day, and where women, exhausted by a plague of violence, find that their only path out lies in the flames… One from Argentina among gothic books.
Melmoth – Sarah Perry
One winter night in Prague, Helen Franklin meets her friend Karel on the street.
Agitated and enthralled, he tells her he has come into possession of a mysterious old manuscript, filled with personal testimonies that take them from 17th-century England to wartime Czechoslovakia, the tropical streets of Manila, and 1920s Turkey. All of them tell of being followed by a tall, silent woman in black, bearing an unforgettable message.
Helen reads its contents with intrigue, but everything in her life is about to change. A popular one among gothic books.
The Monk – Matthew Lewis
‘One of the most shocking Gothic books’ Independent
Noble and devout, Ambrosio is the abbot of a Spanish monastery and spends his days in prayer and preaching. However his monastery is harboring a malevolent force in the form of a young monk called Rosario. Rosario attaches himself to the abbot and then one fateful night reveals that he is in fact a beautiful woman in disguise. From this moment on Ambrosio finds himself seduced into a lurid maelstrom of sin and vice that it is impossible for him to resist.
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. A popular one among gothic books.
The Distant Hours – Kate Morton
This enthralling romantic thriller pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.
It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II.
The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls. The truth of what happened in “the distant hours” has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. A curious one among gothic books.
The Doll Factory – Elizabeth Macneal
London. 1850. On a crowded street, the dollmaker Iris Whittle meets the artist Louis Frost. Louis is a painter who yearns to have his work displayed in the Royal Academy, and he is desperate for Iris to be his model. Iris agrees, on the condition that he teaches her to paint.
Dreaming of freedom, Iris throws herself into a new life of art and love, unaware that she has caught the eye of a second man. Silas Reed is a curiosity collector, enchanted by the strange and beautiful. After seeing Iris at the site of the Great Exhibition he finds he cannot forget her.
As Iris’s world expands, Silas’s obsession grows. And it is only a matter of time before they meet again. One set in London among gothic books.
Mrs England – Stacey Halls
West Yorkshire, 1904.
When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.
Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.One set in West Yorkshire among gothic books.
The Binding – Bridget Collins
Emmett Farmer is a binder’s apprentice. His job is to hand-craft beautiful books and, within each, to capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory.
If you have something you want to forget, or a secret to hide, he can bind it – and you will never have to remember the pain it caused.
In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and secrets – are meticulously stored and recorded.
Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of the volumes has his name on it. A bestseller among gothic books.
Fludd – Hilary Mantel
One dark and stormy night in 1956, a stranger named Fludd mysteriously turns up in the dismal village of Fetherhoughton. He is the curate sent by the bishop to assist Father Angwin-or is he? In the most unlikely of places, a superstitious town that understands little of romance or sentimentality, where bad blood between neighbors is ancient and impenetrable, miracles begin to bloom. No matter how copiously Father Angwin drinks while he confesses his broken faith, the level of the bottle does not drop.
Although Fludd does not appear to be eating, the food on his plate disappears. Fludd becomes lover, gravedigger, and savior, transforming his dull office into a golden regency of decision, unashamed sensation, and unprecedented action. Knitting together the miraculous and the mundane, the dreadful and the ludicrous, Fludd is a tale of alchemy and transformation told with astonishing art, insight, humor, and wit. For the fans of Mantel among gothic books.
The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths
An exciting crime novel among gothic books. A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
This is what the police know: English teacher Clare Cassidy’s friend Ella has just been murdered. Clare and Ella had recently fallen out. Found beside the body was a line from The Stranger, a story by the Gothic writer Clare teaches, and the murder scene is identical to one of the deaths in the story.
This is what Clare knows: No one else was aware of her fight with Ella. Few others have even read The Stranger. Someone has wormed their way into her life and her work. They know her darkest secrets. And they don’t mean well.
This is what the killer knows: Who will be next to die.
The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin
The year is 1831. Down murky alleyways, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and London’s vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape these slums by any means possible.
When a chance encounter thrusts Hester into the beguiling world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new existence, and lure her into the most sinister of investigations. As she finds herself dragged into the blackest heart of the city, little does she know that something more depraved than she could ever imagine is lurking… An exciting one among gothic books.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey
Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .
August 1939. As the Second World War looms, thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s famous collection of mammals. But once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for . . .
Protecting her priceless animals from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is hard enough, but when a series of mysterious events occur, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the gothic mansion.
As her fears build, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses? A popular one among gothic books.
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
High on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the loss of Lily, mother of twins Eliot and Miranda, and beloved wife of Luc. Miranda misses her with particular intensity. Their mazy, capricious house belonged to her mother’s ancestors, and to Miranda, newly attuned to spirits, newly hungry for chalk, it seems they have never left. Forcing apples to grow in winter, revealing and concealing secret floors, the house is fiercely possessive of young Miranda. A haunting one among gothic books.
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Are there any gothic books you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?