Monday, 4 May 2015

Modern Gothic: Five Texts

Last Saturday I did something I've never done before, I presented an academic paper. This was as part of the Birmingham City University Interdisciplinary Day which rounded out the Gothic in Birmingham exhibit that the Library of Birmingham has been hosting. My paper was about the outsider in modern Gothic, with a focus on the modern works that have come out of the Goth subculture. In the wake of it (and having recovered) I thought I'd put down my top five novels that have either originated in the Goth scene or from people closely allied to it.

1) Lost Souls: Poppy Z Brite

Brite's debut novel is one of love, lust, blood and death. It raises questions about family, identity and
sexuality as a boy runs away from home and encounters a world far stranger and more deranged than he could ever imagined. A vampire novel, Brite reinvents the monster into something far more low key and debauched than Bram Stoker could have imagined. This novel is perhaps the most enmeshed in the Goth Scene, referencing bands, holding up New Orleans as a sort of Mecca.

2) The Red Tree: Caitlin R Kiernan

An almost Lovecraftian tale of unease and fear, the Red Tree centres on an author who relocates from Birmingham Alabama to Rhode Island and discovers a malevolent tree in the woods at the back of her property. The book focuses on the protagonist's life within the house, the death of her lover and the mysterious woman who moves into the room upstairs; and who, it is revealed at the end of the book might never have been there at all. It's one of Kiernan's strongest novels, full of foreboding and grace.

3) American Gods: Neil Gaiman

The third novel by Gaiman, who's arguably still known for Sandman more than for the rest of his
oeuvre. Shadow, recently released from prison takes up with the mysterious old grifter, Mr Wednesday and is drawn into a shadow world that's stranger than anything he could have imagined. A story about mythology, the interaction of ancient and modern ideas, tricks and traps, American Gods reaches into America's soul and pulls it out for a good examination.

4) Dark Cathedral: Freda Warrington

A novel centred on the clash of faiths, in particular evangelical Christianity and Paganism, the novel's protagonist Beth is a girl who is thrown out of her home after she becomes pregnant. She soon learns, however, that she isn't free and that the past will not let her go so easily. There are sexual perversions, family secrets and terrifying supernatural power to contend with as Beth grows into a strong woman, rediscovers the love of her life and the shadow that has haunted her all her life.

5) Horns: Joe Hill

Whilst Hill isn't a Gothic novelist, he has dabbled both here and in the comic series Lock and Key.
Horns follows Ig, a young man suspected of killing his girlfriend and who unwittingly crosses the threshold into the supernatural when he pisses on the statue of the Virgin Mary left at the murder site and shouts out challenges, which are heard and accepted. Hill's work here focuses on secrets and how the faces we present to the world are seldom our true selves; we are all hypocrites. Hill takes a powerful, and unconventional, view of Christianity here, something that many readers may find unsettling.

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