Wednesday 16 December 2015


With the embers in our fireplaces being stoked on a constant basis and the country wrapped in a seemingly never-ending gloom (when will I be able to wear my shades again, exactly?) it's only right we get in an appropriately dark mood. But as an endless procession of storms shakes Britain to the core we also need something to get excited about, too. So, the big question – the one on everyone's lips, the burning issue of which nothing in the entire world is more important (not really) – is this: is it time to resurrect the Gothic novel?

It's not like interest in the genre has gone away, what with Guillermo del Toro's gothic blockbuster 'Crimson Peak' meeting critical acclaim and with classic novels such as 'Frankenstein', 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde' and 'Dracula' still being revived in every medium. Isn't it time we communed with the Divine Ham inside and brought the Gothic novel back in from the cold?

The key elements of the genre are now neglected, timeless tropes: isolated castles, houses or monasteries; windswept moors; moustachioed tyrants; dungeons; virginal girls who are constantly fainting; ghosts bent on a mission of revenge; the encroaching darkness of corruption and a satirical depiction of hypocritical authority. And surely there is something in the air in bleak midwinters such as these which makes such elements all the more appealing?

Granted, the genre has a chequered history. The widely acknowledged genesis of the Gothic novel, 'The Castle of Otranto', is essentially the literary equivalent of a text-based adventure on the ZX Spectrum. In fact it might as well be written in Basic for all the sense it makes. But aside from that it still established the roots for a more poetic form of popular fiction, including all the soon-to-be cliches above, as well as dry sense of humour and a death by a falling giant helmet – and nothing gets more metal than that.

But at its best it could be a marvellously evocative experience – such as the classics mentioned early, and especially Lewis' 'The Monk' which combined a dry wit and skilful literary touch with a delightful, Sadean cynicism, making that tale of religious corruption and hypocrisy possibly the best of the entire genre. No wonder it has been only recently adapted into a movie starring movie arch-cad Vincent Kassell.

And, of course, let's not forget the hundreds and thousands of gothic romance potboilers that have emerged in the centuries since the genre emerged – many of them doused in a kind of sub-Mills & Boon fragrance of sepia and cheese, and nearly all of which had covers depicting a beautiful woman running away from a castle. Or a house. Or a monastery.

So like all creative journeys return to the source to regain originality, isn't it time we put some more ham, cheese, spooky, mist, and bleak haunted space into our lives? Let's all put on our frock coats and make 2016 the year the Gothic novel returns. Go to the periphery, to the coast or moors or mountains or hills and be inspired be the sheer bleakness of your surroundings. Write, imagine, plot. And throw open the dusty doors of your mind, exorcise your personal demons, and let in some light in 2016.

Merry Xmas, readers!

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