Tap into your dark side with our top picks by some of the greatest Gothic/Horror female writers out there.
So, it’s very nearly Halloween, and if you’re anything like us, you’re completely organized by now with a killer costume (and if you’re not—check this), you’ve got a couple of plans set in your diary, and you’ve started watching the scary flicks. But don’t forget that there a fair few spooky books out there that are well worth the paranoia which stops you from sleeping with one foot out the bed and forces you to check behind your shower curtain—trust us. From classic Gothic novels that have inspired most of the horror films you know and love, to gruesome or psychological thrillers that’ll haunt your dreams for a couple of weeks afterwards; we’ve come up with our top picks by some of the most imaginative female authors out there. Prepare to get freaked out (in the best possible way).
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Rebecca is a classic psychological suspense thriller about a name-less protagonist who marries the man she adores, Maxim de Winter, and goes to live with him in his eerie mansion, Manderley. She soon realizes that despite the fact his deceased first wife Rebecca is dead; she’s very much still present in the house thanks to the staff who are all obsessed with her. Our heroine becomes insecure when she is told that she will never measure up to the beautiful and charismatic Rebecca, and is soon driven to fear by Rebecca’s haunting presence which lingers in every corner. This novel has a brilliant twist toward the end, which takes it to another level of excitement. Seriously, this book will have you cancelling plans.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (1818)
Frankenstein is a classic Gothic novel which tells the tale about a scientist who brings to life an inanimate body and creates a monster. Horror and regret ensue when the monster turns evil after being mistreated and isolated by everyone it encounters. While it’s filled with moments of bleak terror, it also has a heart-breaking additional narrative which encourages you to sympathize with the monster by viewing its perspective.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë (1847)
We’ve all heard Kate Bush’s iconic song of the same name. Never understood what she was singing about? Listen up. Set on the ghostly Yorkshire moors in Northern England, Wuthering Heights is a nineteenth century Gothic Romance about Heathcliff and Cathy’s troubled love affair, of which was doomed from the start. Cathy rejects Heathcliff to marry a rich suitor despite still being in love with Heathcliff, and he in turn won’t rest until he wins her back, while seeking revenge on anyone who attempts to get in his way. A haunting depiction of destructive love, it’s gripping, devastatingly romantic, and chilling in equal measure. And don’t get us started on the prose (so GOOD). There may be tears.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman – The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)
The Yellow Wallpaper is truly terrifying, so much more so than any scary tale that is fantastical or gory in its horror. It’s a short feminist story about the inferior status given to women by Victorian patriarchy. We follow a nameless woman who is suffering from “temporary nervous depression” and, as a form of treatment, is forced by her physician and husband to live isolated in a room away from any mental stimulation. Stifled with nothing to do in a room with ugly yellow wallpaper, she begins to hallucinate, and her depression turns into madness.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson (1959)
The story follows Dr Montague – an anthropologist who decides to rent a notoriously cursed mansion to do research on the existence of psychic disturbances. He is joined by three others, and during their stay shit of course starts to go down. Stephen King was quoted saying it was one of the most important horror novels of the twentieth century, so you know it’s going to be good.
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes (2014)
The Shining Girls is a compelling thriller about a deadly serial killer (Harper Curtis) who goes back and forth in time looking for girls to murder. Kirby Mazrachi is his only surviving victim, and she turns the tables around by going on a mission to hunt him down (YES girl). A seriously dark, gruesome story that’ll make you want to turn away while simultaneously hooking you in. Warning—you’ll probably be sleeping with the lights on after this one.
Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman (1995)
This book isn’t a horror story, but hey—we love it, and it involves witches and magic, so we’re throwin’ it in. Anyone who wants to get in the Halloween spirit without encouraging any nightmares—this one’s for you. For over two hundred years, the Owens women have been suspected of witchery. Unable to deal with the whispers and taunting, sisters Gillian and Sally decide to escape—one by running away, the other by living a normal life, away from magic. It’s a bewitching tale about the power of love and family ties, and Hoffman’s storytelling is utterly engaging and charming. We dare you not to be moved.
Thus Were Their Faces—Silvina Ocampo (1988)
Believe us when we say these stories are nothing like anything you will have ever come by. Crazily imaginative and magical, Silvina Ocampo’s short stories turn mundane domestic situations into extraordinarily dark and strange scenarios. Every sentence is unpredictable, seriously unsettling and yet inviting. Her tales include a dog who records the dreams of an elderly woman, a marble statue of a horse that talks, and other wildly fantastical pieces that are written with a lurking, creepy outcome.