Edgar Allan Poe may have been great, but there’s no reason to see him as the be all and end all of gothic literature. If you like reading material that’s morbid, poetic, gloomy, clever and full of damaged, cynical characters, or wild Byronic heroes then you might just be a closet Goth, and even if you’re not, you may still enjoy this article, since its full of book recommendations that should fit that description.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
This book has it all: death, insanity, more death, romance, giant old mansions out in the middle of nowhere! Almost every character is troubled and unconventional and the introspective writing style manages to convey the story’s gloomy atmosphere perfectly while also avoiding any out-of-place angst.
The average goth will probably be able to relate to the main character in a number of ways. She’s got an artistic temperament, had a bad time at school, and is tortured by her unrequited feelings for Mr Rochester, a man that she feels certain she can’t have. Throughout the novel she feels like a misfit around others, and generally sees her surroundings as constrictive – whether it’s at the house of her aunt, who hates her, her underfunded school or at Thornfield Hall, where she is looked down upon by Mr Rochester’s wealthy acquaintances. At the same time as being introspective without getting too claustrophobic and losing sight of the plot and other characters, this is a novel that is clever but accessible. I hate to use the term “stands the test of time” but it really does apply here, and its obvious gloom, intelligence and sense of wonder make it ideal for the Goth audience in particular.
The Gum Thief – Douglas Coupland
What happens when we grow up and are expected to grow out of subcultures that we still feel attachments to? That’s not exactly The Gum Thief’s central issue, but one of the main characters, Bethany is a 24 year old Goth who works at Staples and is better equipped to deal with death than life. She befriends Roger, a depressed colleague with a similarly difficult and fractured personal life and the novel is told through the secret letters they write for each other, and Roger’s novel, Glove Pond, that Bethany helps inspire.
Coupland is kind of similar to Chuck Palahnuik, in that he’s very good at writing on darkly philosophical themes with that sassy, 1990s tone. Both manage to weave the day-to-day and the mundane in with universal themes like, y’know, death and stuff. In my personal opinion, I think Coupland accomplishes this better than Palahnuik, it just feels smoother and more genuine to me, whereas sometimes I get the feeling that Palahnuik is finding it more difficult to hold it all together. I also think that Coupland’s characters are convincing on a level above Palahnuik, and a lot of other writers actually. Check out Bethany’s mother DeeDee, only a side character, but a very believable one who you really feel for. She represents another layer of hopelessness, different to Roger and Bethany, and as an acquaintance of both, she deepens their relationship.
Crow – Ted Hughes
Crow is a book of poetry that is so good it can convert people who thought they hated poetry. The poems tell the story of the titular Crow, whose life is entwined with the very creation of the earth. It’s as dark as you should expect from Ted Hughes, whose work frequently revisits the theme of nature being fucking brutal. Although this collection borrows a lot of mythological ideas and imagery, it’s not the same as T. S. Eliot and a lot of other writers using mythology to build a framework or a sense of order. There is no order to Crow’s world, and the chaos is a little scary, as well as one of the defining elements of the work. If nothing else, it is the shortest work on this list, so if you like darkness, wilderness and that general aesthetic, you’ve really no excuse not to give it a look.
Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill
Does it get any more Goth than reading a book after hearing Gerard Way mention it in an interview? Well, only if you seek out books on the recommendation of Glenn Danzig, and maybe if that book is about an aging rock star who buys a ghost on the internet. No really, that’s what this book is about. It starts off about as dramatic and sensational and “holiday reading” as that synopsis makes it sound, but it gets more sophisticated as it goes. The book is full of damaged characters, from protagonist Judas Coyne to his current girlfriend Georgia and spooky dead ex, Florida. Yes, he has a penchant for nick-naming his girlfriends after states of the U.S. and yeah, they’re all weird gothic trophy partners with black nail polish and tattoos and perfect bodies. This is why Judas and Georgia’s relationship is so interesting; the haunting drives them closer together than they ever really expected of their weird partnership of convenience. The ghost itself is at the same time otherworldly and mundane – this is not a faceless demon of any sort, it is the spirit of a real dead man, and the intertwining of memory and identity with death and the macabre is a key theme throughout.
The Sandman Series – Neil Gaiman
An obvious choice? Or just a classic? Firstly, yes, it is a comic and I know that comics don’t qualify as “real, highbrow art” but I feel that the inclusion of Ted Hughes poetry sort of cancels this out. The titular Sandman is the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, one of seven siblings known as the Endless who embody other alliterative concepts, such as Delirium, Death and Desire. These beings are mostly omnipotent, with powers beyond gods, which is often an easy way to make a story boring – is there any struggle that cannot be overcome by a character with no limitations to their ability? Gaiman avoids any such pitfalls by basing the Endless on the character types that you might find in classical literature, such as the scheming malcontent, or the powerful figure brought down by his own pride. The overreaching story arc that runs through every volume is about the siblings plotting against each other, paced like a mystery story in the way that it cleverly withholds key facts but offers lots of clues to keep you guessing.
As well as the poetic tone of the whole series and the fact that Death herself is a character, there are other factors that make this comic a perfect Goth Option. Dream’s main character flaw is his romanticism, which leads him to overestimate himself and get filled with pride, behave cruelly to his enemies and invest too deeply in romantic affairs that go badly. Not to mention that his character design suggests he’s a big fan of both Robert Smith and Trent Reznor.