Mystery is the bedrock of human imagination and curiosity. Who doesn't like a good mystery?
Curiosity propels our minds to think beyond the dictated schools of thought and journey in to newer avenues which open our minds to creativity.
We, humans, are a curious lot; we need answers to everything out there.
This inquisitiveness often leads to unfavorable results or discoveries. :P
Like they say, curiosity killed the cat!
A good mystery has the classic elements: a murder, not enough clues, an intelligent protagonist and a resourceful helper, and more. Even more intriguing is when goth elements show up in the story, with a touch of horror. Nothing more to make the narrative compelling!
As we progressed from 'Famous Five' to 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Sherlock Holmes', we became more aware not only of the mysteries present in the books but the ones surrounding our lives as well.
Gothic mystery has been a celebrated genre for centuries now.
Intelligent heroines with a flair for fainting,
handsome gentlemen with mysterious secrets,
a brewing clandestine romance,
a villain who dresses the part,
and dark, gloomy castles or manors with long hallways and clandestine rooms replete with horror, serving as a backdrop,
these mysteries make us feel invigorated.
With the much-needed adrenaline coursing through us as we turn page after page, trying to decipher the meaning of a certain code hidden in the heart of the once statuesque manor or the eerie occurrences the protagonists seem to encounter, we see ourselves completely lost in the mystery of the characters' fates.
Soon enough, you will find yourself fantasizing about traveling around deserted moors, dressed in all-black ensembles, pining for a non-existent lover and inquiring the mystery surrounding their supposed death or the hauntings of your castle.
The supernatural has always been an interesting topic of discussion; it has liaised with popular media and literature umpteen times.
The idea of a spooky castle and ghosts, a sprinkling of the paranormal is enough to make one's hair stand on end. The suspense and secrecy strike hard on our inquisitive natures. Nothing like a tryst with the supernatural to spruce up our imagination.
Gothic novels are the best of both worlds as they serve us both doses in one.
Here are six such novels which will get your brain working and your heart thumping with their shrouded secrets and seemingly innocuous characters:1. Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier/1938):
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece is an iconic gothic mystery novel.
Set in the West Country, the story focusses on an unnamed protagonist, who gets married to the dashing, recently-widowed Mr Maximillian de Winters on a trip to Monte Carlo.
Written in dreamy prose, starting with the ominous line mentioned above, the narrator/protagonist tells the reader about her once monotonous life which changes after she starts living in the Manderley mansion which is still haunted by memories of the previous Mrs. de Winters, the perfect and beloved Rebecca. Rebecca's essence seems omnipresent, fueled by the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who was Rebecca's confidant and is obsessed with her.
The plot focuses on the mystery surrounding Rebecca's death, a dubious boat accident, which no one seems to be able to explain and which seems to irk the megalomaniacal Mr.de Winters.
Trouble starts when the narrator, jealous of Rebecca's memory and upset with comparisons with her, wishes to change things about the house. This leads the devoted (and creepy) Mrs Danvers to constantly manipulate and demean her until she starts hallucinating and believing that her husband no longer loves her and is still in love with Rebecca.
Rebecca seems to have a stronghold on the lives of the characters, especially the new Mrs de Winters, from beyond the grave, because of which the narrator is unable to get the happiness she craves.
Interestingly, a secret is unearthed when a shipwreck takes place near the beautiful estate and the new bride becomes aware of the sinister plans that lie ahead and events from the past.
With a major theme of jealousy, the novel strikes the right chord of suspense, intrigue and surprise. Creepiness galore, courtesy of Mrs Danvers.
Best Adaptation: Alfred Hitchcock's “Rebecca” (1940).2. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Henry Farrell/1960):
“What have you done?”
“You mean all this time we could have been friends?”
Another goth mystery focusing on two reclusive sisters who live in a dilapidated manor; one a former child star and the other a wheel-chair bound heroine.
Jane is an alcoholic who is stuck in the memories her once-prosperous vaudeville career and dresses the same, complete with layers of make-up, curls and a dress.
Blanche, the elder one, who has been limited to be dependent on the whimsical Jane for her tidings and care after a mysterious accident which cut short her booming acting career, becomes increasingly alarmed when she observes Jane's deteriorating mental state. Thus, she plans to take matters in her hand.
Their decrepit Hollywood house serves as the eerie background as Jane and Blanche rely on to their resentment in order to get the upper hand. Jane resorts to violence on the paraplegic sister and tries to become famous again while Blanche wants to get her life together and get Jane out of the way.
Unbeknownst to Jane, a terrible mystery lies, shrouded in the shadows, which will upend the lives of the sisters.
The gruesome trail of events which follow make it a thrilling tale of jealousy and sibling rivalry resulting in an intriguingly superb climax.
The animosity and resentment the sisters carry for each other lead to their eventual ruin, which makes one think about how much a kind act can change a person's life.
Best Adaptation: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1961) starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who coincidentally never got along.3. The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson/1959):
“Am I walking toward something I should be running away from?”
The classic story of the haunted manor does not get better than this novel. Netflix's adaptation of the epic story has been well received but it is the book itself which should be on your reading list
With an eerie set-up of a deserted manor in the hills, the novel centres on four main characters: Eleanor, a recluse who has been living with her disabled mother; Theodora, a bohemian artist; Dr Montague, a researcher of the paranormal and supernatural, and Luke Sanderson, the heir to Hill House.
In an attempt to help him in the research for scientific proof that explains paranormal activities, Dr Montague invites people to Hill House which he has rented for the summer owing to its legend of being haunted.
Theodora and Eleanor show up and the four form a bond of friendship as the novel progresses, littered with unexplained occurrences, spooky happenings and ghost-sightings. As the characters investigate further, they try to cope with reality; is what happening to them true or hallucinations caused by the house? The house itself becomes an entity which seems to control the people inside it.
What the reader is left to ponder about is whether the events actually happened are only a figment of the narrator's imagination. Or is something more sinister lying in wait inside the house? What other horrors is it hiding? The mystery of the Hill House becomes more real as the pages turn.
Best Adaptation: The Haunting of Hill House (2018) and The Haunting (1999)4. Dracula (Bram Stoker/1897):
“Despair has its own calms.”
The epitome of gothic perfection; the book which has inspired a deluge of novels, series and movies, is a cult classic of the gothic mystery/horror genre.
The novel which gave us the iconic anti-hero, Dracula, and the essential knowledge to ward off vampires; garlic!
Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula is a gentleman with an affable charm and manners who is visited by newly-minted solicitor Jonathan Harker on the business of providing legal counsel on the new estate the former has acquired in England.
Unknown to Jonathan, he becomes a prisoner in Dracula's castle, a fact which he becomes aware of quite late. As Dracula travels to visit his new home, leaving Harker to his fate, Jonathan tries to break out from the clutches of the gothic nightmare he seems to be stuck in, replete with a vampire.
Written in epistolary form, as a series of memoirs and letters, we follow Count Dracula and his mysterious cargo across Transylvania and England, as he tries to feed himself and hypnotize humans to do his bidding and also try to change some of them into vampires.
What seems to be his end goal? What is he trying to achieve?
Will the vampire hunters, headed by the teacher Abraham Van Helsing, be able to unearth the mysterious secret behind the Count's behaviour and his ignoble intentions?
Also starring: mystical crypts, shape-shifting, stakes through hearts, werewolves, silent graveyards and disloyal servants.
A breathtaking horror mystery with a human touch. Prepare to be enamoured!
Best Adaptation: Dracula (1958)5. Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn/2006):
Not the typical gothic mystery novel, the goth undertones of this novel are derived from the violence meted out by people on others. Gillian Flynn's maiden novel, before the widely famous “Gone Girl”, has elements of a Southern gothic backdrop, a setting common in novels like “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Set in the fictional town of Wind Gap, Missouri, we follow journalist Camille Preaker who is unhappy with her job and has a terrible past, pieces of which have left indelible marks on her body.
When a string of unresolved murders starts in Wind Gap, Camille is sent back to her hometown to investigate the murders.
This leads to her going back to her house, under the roof of her insensitive and self-righteous mother, Adora who is a mystery herself and her seemingly perfect half-sister Amma.
What other secrets is Camille hiding and is Amma as perfect as she seems to be? As the novel progresses, Amma's true nature is revealed and the mysterious incidents from Camille's childhood come back to haunt her, especially her sister's death which pushes her to the brink of death.
What lies behind Adora's stern exterior and what secrets is she hiding? Was there more to Marian's death than what Adora leads on to?
The novel then jumps off to the major plotline of the unexplained murders and disappearances, which Camille finds out have a more menacing theme than what she had anticipated.
Best Adaptation: Sharp Objects (2018), an HBO Original mini-series starring Amy Adams as Camille Preaker.6. The Mysteries of Udolpho (Ann Radcliffe/1794):
Ann Radcliffe's magnum opus spread over four volumes follows the trials and tribulations of a father-daughter duo, who journey on the French and Italian countryside in order to regain their lost fortune.
A gothic romance featuring Emily St. Aubert, the beautiful and intelligent protagonist steers the reader into her eventful life. What makes her different is her affinity for nature's beauty, a trait not predominant in other gothic leads.
As she travels with her father, Monsieur St. Aubert, with whom she shares an ineffaceable kinship, she meets the handsome Valancourt, who shares her love for nature, and they end up falling in love. Tragedy strikes when her father dies on the way and she is forced to live with her aunt, the abominable Madame Cheron who marries the immoral and despicable Montoni.
Emily pines for her lover and tries to thwart her step-uncle's villainous plans to marry her off to a wealthy suitor, Morano. When things go awry, he whisks the family away from their home to Udolpho.
Imprisoned by her step-uncle in the castle, she tries all in her power to break free from the captive status and is helped in her endeavour by a horde of characters. Will she succeed? That forms the crux of the story.
She also chances upon a well-kept secret about her father which is connected to the site of her captivity, the infamous castle of Udolpho.
Spooky occurrences mar the stay at the ruined castle of Udolpho, aided by age-old secrecies, strange suitors for Emily, secret admirers amidst eerie music from the woods and a look into the mysteries of nature. The novel iterates that it is not only ghosts or people who are mysterious, but nature also has a lot of unexplained charisma too.7. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Ligeia” (Edgar Allan Poe):
No one writes gothic fiction better than Edgar Allen Poe.
His stories and poems are the embodiment of creepiness; featuring undead creatures and untrustworthy narrators. His works rely heavily on the concept of life and death.
“True! - nervous - very, very nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”
The Tell-Tale Heart is a short story about an unnamed neurotic narrator who does something terrible and is caught in the “eye” of the storm, the repercussions of which haunt him as he lives.
“There is one dear topic, however, on which my memory fails me not. It is the person of Ligeia.”
Ligeia is the story of a beautiful, raven-haired woman who marries the anonymous narrator who seems besotted with her.
Though her beauty is unconventional, leaning a bit towards emaciation, the narrator is shown to be dependent on his intelligent wife who is adept in many arts and sciences. She questions human mortality and makes the narrator look beyond his narrow perspective.
Unfortunately, she dies and in grief, the narrator moves into an old abbey and marries Rowena, a beautiful, fair-haired lady whom he isn't attracted to. The twist comes when Rowena dies, and the narrator starts experiencing strange episodes which make him wonder about the mystery behind his second wife's death, on the night before her burial.
Intrigued enough? Let it no longer be a mystery. Get yourself a copy of one of these and satisfy your curiosity!