9 Gothic Novels Less than 40 Years Old

When people think of the gothic novel, they think old. (Here’s a great starter list by LitReactor’s Meredith Borders of some of the gothic classics.) It’s a genre born of and steeped in tradition, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. There are plenty of excellent contemporary gothic novels – some of the old tradition and some modernized, but all fantastically atmospheric and juicy. Whether you’ve already read all the classics and need fresher blood or you want to explore the genre but just don’t like old books, here are nine gothic novels that aren’t even over the hill yet.

 1. 'Flowers in the Attic' by V.C. Andrews (1979)

Remember when your well-meaning mother and evil grandmother locked you and your siblings away in an attic so they could inherit a bunch of money, and then you accidentally fell in love with your brother because there was literally no other human for you to spend time with right as you hit puberty? No? Don’t worry, you can experience all of that twisted tragedy and more vicariously with the modern classic Flowers in the Attic. And if that’s not enough to scar you for life satiate your perverse needs, never fear: there are four sequels. Just, whatever you do, don’t assume it’s a YA because the protagonists are teenagers and loan it to your kids. (Unless you roll that way. I don’t judge.)


 2. 'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill (1983)

Complete with a lone protagonist on a mysterious task, an isolated house that has its own name (I mean, really, when was the last time you heard of a house that had its own Proper Noun Name?), eerie settings, quiet, relentless tension, and vindictive ghosts, The Woman in Black is the closest you can get modern-day to a historically classic gothic novel. And yes, it’s well worth a read even if you saw the movie. It supplies in literary quality and depth value far beyond what was conveyable on screen.


 3. 'The Witching Hour' by Anne Rice (1990)

The Witching Hour is one of those novels that’s difficult to summarize, because it’s just so incredibly intricate and big. This disturbing saga follows a family of witches across centuries of being haunted, controlled, and taunted by a dangerous spirit. From burning witches at the stake in 17th-century France to discovering psychic gifts in 1990’s San Francisco, this book is a master-class in setting, scope, and weaving narratives together. If you’re looking for a dense, immersive read, look no further than the first book in the trilogy of the Mayfair Witches.


 4. 'Fingersmith' by Sarah Waters (2002)

If you like your gothics with a little less horror and a little more romance, then Fingersmith might be up your alley. Set in Victorian London, bouncing between Dickensian lower-class thieves and exquisite gothic upper-class isolationists, this novel twists, twists again, and keeps on twisting. Oh, and did I mention the romance is a lesbian affair? Somehow, Waters manages to sew romance, horror, feminist commentary, thrilling twists, gorgeous prose, and fabulous characterization into a single, seamless tapestry of gothic goodness. The best I’ve read in some time. Get in on this one.


 5. 'A Choir of Ill Children' by Tom Piccirilli (2003)

If you like your gothics with a little less romance and a little more horror, then A Choir of Ill Children may be worth your time. Disclaimer: this one is literary in the obscurest, densest, most inaccessible sense of the word, so if you don’t like to work for you food, skip this one. But if you like a challenge, prose doesn’t get much more unique and artful than this book. Set in a swampy southern town full of dirty souls, veiled commentary, and unlikely deformities, this book begs to be read twice: once to immerse and again to edify.


 6. 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

What’s a list of gothic novels without some vampires? At 240,000 words, The Historian is admittedly a commitment, but when enough people tell you to add something to your list, you eventually admit it’ll be one you someday regret taking so long to get to. When a young woman comes across an unsettling letter in her father’s library, she’s unwittingly plunged into a dark, tangled web of good and evil. This novel masterfully blends the historical figure Vlad Tepes with his fictional counterpart Count Dracula.


 7. 'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield (2006)

Speaking of books and mysterious letters, in The Thirteenth Tale, another unsuspecting young woman is drawn into someone else’s tale of family secrets, haunted pasts, decaying estates, and ominous truths. A beautiful blend of ghosts, history, family drama, and mystery, this one also brings plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning pages.


 8. 'The Forest of Hands and Teeth' by Carrie Ryan (2009)

If adult books aren’t your style, YA, too, boasts its own contributions to gothic heritage. Cleverly disguised as a zombie novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth will be immensely satisfying to gothic genre fans. Full of horror, melodrama, richly atmospheric settings, sinister members of the cloth, mystery, decaying society, and a forbidden love, all in lyrical prose told from the perspective of a teenage girl, this is not your typical zombie novel.


 9. 'The Night Swimmer' by Matt Bondurant (2012)

And last (latest) but certainly not least, how about a beautiful modern gothic to finish of the list? The Night Swimmer is literary fiction first and gothic fiction second, but the gothic elements, though subtle, are definitely there, lurking in the background like dark silhouettes. What seems at first to be a marital drama set in Ireland slowly unravels into a quiet, memorable, and utterly compelling story of violence, secrets, culture, and the depths of the human heart. If you don’t need your stories splashy, this one is definitely worth your time. I read it five years ago and scenes from it still stand out vividly in my mind.

So the next time you get a hankering for a book that blends horror and romance, utilizes family saga and mystery, revels in atmosphere and dread, why not pick up a gothic? These nine beauties are waiting for you, the contemporary descendants of the classics in the genre, a dark and twisted lineage still thriving today.

Annie Neugebauer

Column by Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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Ashley B. Davis's picture
Ashley B. Davis from California is reading In the Woods January 24, 2017 - 3:29pm

Ms. Neugebauer, it appears I've reached the moment in my career of stalking you that I know your posts by title alone. I deserve a promotion. Just puttin' that out there.

Great list. I like that it's chronoligical to show just how much of a presence this genre still posesses nowadays, even among a wide range of secondary genres (horror, contemporary, literary, and YA). I look forward to hitting Fingersmith, Forest of Hands and Teeth, and The Witching Hour this year. And I really want to reread The Night Swimmer, because I listened to it on audio, and I think I'd enjoy it a lot more by holding it and seeing the words. Your description of The Flowers in the Attic is on point, my friend.

AnnieNeugebauer's picture
AnnieNeugebauer from Texas is reading Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5 January 25, 2017 - 11:13am

You have the highest position available, m'dear. :) I'm going to choose to interpret that as "my voice is strong and I've established a cohesive suite of topics" instead of "I'm totally predictable now." I think you'll like all three you listed, especially TFOHAT! I read The Night Swimmer in print, so I'm not sure; I do know narrators can make a huge difference in a reading experience, so it might be worth a try. Thank you so much.

Kris Peterson's picture
Kris Peterson from far northern California is reading The Sea Came in at Midnight January 28, 2017 - 7:16am

Like Ms. Davis, I feel that I am stalking you. However, I have not reached the point where I can identify you by the titles of your articles alone. I am pleasantly surprised when I click on an article and it is by you. By now that surprise is fading, being replaced by a pleasant acknowledgment that I am drawn to your "strong voice" and "cohesive suite of topics," and perhaps have found my place. Or maybe it means that you have found yours. From a stalker's point of view there might not be a difference.

AnnieNeugebauer's picture
AnnieNeugebauer from Texas is reading Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5 January 30, 2017 - 11:09am

Hi Kristin! That's the coolest thing to hear. Seriously. From my point of view, in this context "stalker" translates to "happy reader," and I looove those. <3 Thank you so much!