The Gothic And The Domestic: My February Reading List

As I finished up with my non-fiction reading from January and started onto the fiction I had queued up, I noticed another unintentional trend forming. As I prioritized books I learned about from some of my non-fiction reads, as well as titles I prioritized from my TBR, I noticed that the stories leaned more towards the Gothic genre. Since I don’t have too many Gothic horror stories in my collection, I tried to figure out how to keep the theme going throughout all of my February reads. As some of the Gothic stories I’ve read take place in domestic spaces, I decided to priorities horrors and thrillers that took place within the home. Now that two months have involved an unintentionally themed reading list, I’m going to commit to keeping monthly themes going!

Men, Women, and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover: I first read excerpts of this book in other non-fiction texts I read for university. And when some of the non-fiction books I read last month quoted this text as well, I knew I had to add it to my TBR sooner rather than later.

I’m disappointed I didn’t get to read the full text while I was in school for my combined English/Film degree as I would have gotten some good use out of it in some of the essays I wrote. However, I’ve become much more engrossed in the horror genre since then – I had actually seen (or was at least familiar with) most of the films analyzed, which is something I would not have been able to say six years ago.

Although at times it is a standard/dry academic text, I firmly believe that this should be recommended reading for all horror movie fans.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: This novel is in my top 3 when it comes to most memorable opening lines (the other two being A Tale of Two Cities and The Hobbit). I studied the original Hitchcock film for my masters, watched the remake within a week of it hitting Netflix, and learned that this was one of my Nana’s favourite stories. I cannot believe it took me this long to read it.

What can I say? It’s a classic for a reason. The more trivia and facts I learn about the story, the more I love it. Although there is no “real” ghost, the way the narrator is haunted by Rebecca’s memory is exceptionally well done. And Danvers will continue to remain one of my favourite literary antagonists for years to come.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole:

Audiobooks like this are why the right narrator is essential. Had I read this book as a text, I could easily see my attention wandering. It’s not a bad story by any means, it’s just a bit of a drier read because it’s an older text. However, I wanted to cross this one off this list as it’s considered the first Gothic horror story.

Having the iconic Tony Jay read this story brought all of the dark Gothic elements to life. The villainous Manfred jumped right off the virtual page. One thing I learned from my theatre degree is that some texts are better read, and some are better performed. Personally, I think that older texts like this fall into the latter category and I am so glad I listened to this audiobook.

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu: I can’t believe I went so long thinking Dracula was the best vampire story. I’ve known about Carmilla for ages, but never got around to reading it. Luckily for me, this audiobook (more like an audio drama) was included with my Audible membership.

Now, I have to be honest and admit that learning David Tenant has a role in this is what got me to listen to this audiobook so quickly. But even though he does not receive as much air time as the other actors is far from disappointing. The story is interesting and well written. And what’s not to love about lesbian vampires. Move over Dracula!

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill: If you’ve read one of my earlier posts, then I’m sure you already know how much the movie scared me when I first saw it. I was almost hoping to scare myself reading the book, so I took a chance on the audiobook. I nearly shit myself when the book started and sound effects bounced back and forth in my noise cancelling headphones. This was one of those special immersive experience audiobooks. It’s hard not to get chills when you can hear all of the creepy and atmospheric things happening while the narrator is describing them.

As I’ve seen the movie twice, I knew I would love the story. And yes, the book is so much better than the movie. I can understand why the movie made the changes it did, but the ending of the novel is so much more chilling.

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates: Overall, this is a lackluster short story collection. The titular story certainly had me anxiously awaiting the things to come, and it was a well written and engaging story. Everything afterwards fell flat by comparison. The stories were okay, but never great.

And then came “Big Mama”. I adore that story. I was nervous the whole time, wondering how the main character’s tale would line up with the subplot. But the introduction of Big Mama herself was like a sucker punch to the gut. I knew at that very moment what had been happening and what was going to happen, and it made me sick. That story more than made up for the disappointing tales in the collection.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: I really wanted to read this book after I saw the movie, but I think that was my downfall. Since I knew what was going to happen, it took some of the surprise out of key moments in the plot.

Still, this is a good read. The characters are exceptionally well written and there is plenty of tension. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between this story and “The Lottery”, another classic by Jackson.

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes: I listened to this audiobook on a whim when I saw it was both included in my membership and inspired by Jack the Ripper. I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. The story is filled with tension and the characters are complex. The only downside is I found the ending to be a little too over the top.

For a story that takes place primarily in the home, it didn’t feel right that the big finale took place in a wax museum and with so much going on. Part of the charm of this book is that so much of the action takes place within the domestic sphere, separated from the outside world. The ending didn’t fit in.

You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood by Eric Larocca: I read in a Goodreads review that someone found this book to be “no plot, just vibes”. That is the most accurate way I can think to describe what I read. There is a little bit of a plot, but it is mostly just vibes. And oh what wonderfully dark vibes they are. The titular novella on its own made for a fascinating read, seeped in imagery. But sandwiching the novella in epistolary glimpses into the life of the fictional author added another layer of meaning and, well, vibes. I had been curious about Larocca’s work before but was determined to read more after this.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: And here we have an example of a not-so-good audiobook narrator. A fellow reader on Goodreads said that you’re better off skipping the book and going straight to the movie. I’m tempted to agree. I watched the movie soon after and preferred it to the book, which sometimes comes across as a dry newspaper account of events. It didn’t help that I did not like the audiobook narration on this one and felt the need to listen to it on increased speed just to get through it.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum: This story had quite the reputation in my Nightmare Fuel course. When I saw the movie pop up on Plex, I watched it and was even more disturbed than I thought I would be. I was more than prepared for the book to wreck me.

It did.

If you have a weak stomach, do not read this book. That being said, this is a brilliant study of human nature and human suffering. I love this book so much, even though the horrific elements are enough to make me feel deeply uncomfortable.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric Larocca: Just like You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood, this book is FILLED with vibes – but also more plot. And like Oates’ The Doll-Master, the titular story was the star of the show. The other stories were okay, but “Things Have Gotten Worse…” is on another level. I adore Larocca’s use of this unique and modern approach to the epistolary novel, and it made for a faster read. This increased speed amped up the tension as I speculated on how this was all going to end.

I can honestly say that I was not prepared for that ending. It was perfectly disturbing. And with an ending like that, it’s no wonder the other stories in the collection just couldn’t compete.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin: With a classic like this, I knew exactly what I was getting plot-wise before I even downloaded the eBook. Unfortunately, even though I came into this loving the premise, the book fell flat. It took me a while to get into the pacing – it was so choppy that early on I worried that my copy of the eBook was missing some pages. Although the tension in the third chapter was well executed because of this faster pacing, I found that it didn’t have the same effect in the first two chapters. The beginning of the story went by too quickly to allow for any significant amount of tension to be built. I wanted Levin to take a bit more time to draw out some of the action and paranoia.

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