It is the perfect time of the year to curl up with a mug of hot cocoa and a good book. These five books are wonderful pre-Halloween reads that will definitely put you in the right doom-and-gloom kind of mood!
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson’s last work published in 1961, is wrapped in a mist of disquiet and unease. The story revolves around two female protagonists, Mary Katherine – Merricat, 18 and stubborn, and her older sister Constance, who is confined to the Blackwood family home and estate.
The girls, and their frail Uncle Julian, are the last surviving members of this one grand old family. The rest were wiped out by arsenic poisoning, when someone put it in their sugar bowl during supper. Merrical was grounded and sent to her room before supper, Constance didn’t have any sugar, and Uncle Julian only had very little, hence his very fragile and failing health.
The townsfolk started weaving a thick web of myths around the surviving Blackwoods, generally reinforcing the idea that Constance had committed the murders, and Merricat is the only one who ventures into town to fetch groceries and books. And thus Jackson sets the rickety and cobwebby stage for the inevitable conflict that every gothic tale must have that in this case comes in the form of a smooth-talking, gold-digging cousin who convinces Constance that she can have a normal life, which spurs further tension between the Blackwoods and the pitchfork-waving townspeople.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Mexican Gothic is deeply rooted in the ancient Mexican mythology, interspersed with references to gothic classics such as the Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca, as well as the original, Grimm and Andersen fairy tales, while dealing with a topic that hits close to Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Moreno-Garcia successfully intertwines elements of Mexican folklore with the tropes of the gothic and horror genres, whilst tackling the themes of colonialism and women empowerment to create a truly enjoyable reading experience.
Gothic stories are always about escape. Early gothic novels usually had a female heroine whose only function was to get herself in trouble and then remain captive and utterly helpless until a male savior came to her rescue. As many gothic writers in the past decades have done, Moreno-Garcia gives the agency to her protagonist, who eventually needs to defeat the corpselike family patriarch, who represents the forces of an old imperial power. The author deftly plays with the tropes of the gothic novel including women in nightgowns and torn wedding dresses roaming the halls of a crumbling mansion, family crypts, eerie candelabras that never seem to cast enough light on the overwhelming gloom, and sinister power-hungry men with terrible secrets.
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a gothic novel with references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula steeped in feminism. The novel revisits the untold stories of the brides of Dracula whilst following the lives of twins Lil and Kizzy and exploring the themes of sisterhood and women’s unity. The author puts in the foreground the two women whose stories were marginalized in Stoker’s Dracula and creates a new space for them to exist.
The twins are about to find out their fates when, on the eve of their divining, they are captured and enslaved by the evil Boyar Valcar. Subsequently, they are foced to work in the castle kitchens where they meet another slave girl, Mira, who catches Lil’s attention. Nevertheless, soon the reality of the mythical Dragon will dawn upon the twins and they will find out what their fate truly is.
The plot is propelled by the relationship, the ironclad bond, between the twin sisters. Furthermore, the lyrically depicted gothic setting and Traveller culture introduce a freshness to Stoker’s tale. The monsters, on the other hand, are truly monstrous. Vampires aren’t the least bit romanticized in Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s novel. It is a fast-paced, interesting, terrifying, and utmost beautiful tale of sisterhood and monstrosity.
Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
“Don’t be absurd,” Grace said. “Mrs. Greene and I will stay behind. We’ve been cleaning up after men our entire lives. This is no different.”
Desperate housewives get blood on their hands. The story begins in Mt. Pleasant in 1988, when the worst thing that Patricia Campbell can possibly imagine happening is not having read the book for her book club meeting because she was stretched thin among her two teenage kids, her career-driven psychiatrist husband, and her live-in mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who suffers from dementia.
In his Author’s Note Grady Hendrix says, ‘When I was a kid I didn’t take my mom seriously. She was a housewife who was in a book club, and she and her friends were always running errands, and driving car pool, and forcing us to follow rules that didn’t make sense. They just seemed like a bunch of lightweights. Today I realize how many things they were dealing with that I was totally unaware of. They took the hits so we could skate by obliviously, because that’s the deal: as a parent, you endure pain so your children don’t have to.’
He proceeds to put the role, the experience, and the skills of the housewives in the foreground. When the book club goes rogue and starts reading rather trashy true-crime novels, their discussions become far more vibrant, but what they don’t know yet is that they are indirectly preparing for the danger that lies ahead.
When James Harris, a mysterious dark stranger moves into the neighborhood, a series of horrific and gruesome events ensue. Patricia believes that this is somehow connected with James, but proving this connection turns out to be an impossible task. The juxtaposition of the bland suburban mundanity and the threatening evil that looms in the area is hypnotic. The atmosphere is both nostalgic and intense. And the protagonists, the members of the book club, grow and learn to wield their domestic powers.
Agatha Raisin and the Witches’ Tree by M.C. Beaton
M.C. Beaton’s twenty-ninth novel in the Agatha Raisin series (now a popular Acorn produced TV show) is a wonderful pre-Halloween read for a cozy mystery lover. Inclement weather has beset the Cotswolds, and on a particularly foggy and gloomy night Rory and Molly Devere, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. As they pass a gnarled tree at the edge of the village notoriously dubbed the Witches’ Tree, their headlights land on the lifeless body of Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster who had been murdered and hung from the tree.
Soon enough Agatha Raisin, the former powerhouse of a PR consultant now turned private detective, wriggles her way into the case and starts investigating. However, strange threats in the shape of mysterious notes and ghostly whispers in the dark hours of the night warn her that if she keeps investigating, she will soon meet the same fate as Miss Darby. Soon, more murders follow, and Agatha starts feeling the dread of this rain drenched village seep into her bones. Sumpton Harcourt is a closed community, enshrined in their own foggy ways, and the news that there is a coven of witches in the village doesn’t make Agatha’s job any easier.
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