Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gothic Double Feature: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron and The Twin’s Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Book: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Published: 2012
Source: ARC from colleague

Katharine, a poor relation, is used to doing her aunt’s dirty work for her. Sent off to the country in order to prove her uncle mad so that her aunt (not his wife; his sister-in-law) can gain control of all his lovely money for her spoilt son, she accepts it as another dirty job she has to do in order to keep a roof over her head.

But in the country, she discovers a ramshackle country house, a fascinating and childlike uncle who makes mechanical works of genius, and maybe a home. Something strange is happening to her, however. She’s sleepwalking, hearing things, and nobody will believe her that she isn’t doing any of it on purpose.

Is she going mad?

Book: The Twin’s Daughter
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published: 2010
Source: purchased from

The day she answered the door, Lucy’s life took a sharp right turn. For the person at the door looked exactly like her mother--and yet, was not. It was her mother’s twin sister, Helen. Separated at birth and raised in very different circumstances, Helen wants nothing more than to meet her sister. Lucy's mother, for her part, greets her unexpected sister with apparently open arms. Helen gets adopted into the family, educated, dressed, and presented to society.

As her aunt begins to more and more closely resemble Lucy’s mother, it becomes harder and harder for Lucy to tell them apart. Then tragedy strikes. One of the twins dies, the apparent victim of a murderous housebreaker, and one lives. The living one is Lucy’s mother . . . or is she?


I ran across both these books in a span of about two weeks, and their Gothic nature was a surprise to me. I was expecting The Dark Unwinding to be a steampunk, mostly on the basis of the cover, and The Twin’s Daughter to be a historical mystery.

They both had elements of the genres I first assigned them to. What, then, made them particularly Gothic? I have a little better awareness of this genre and all its tropes after reading Sarah Rees Brennan’s blog, which had a strong focus on Gothic novels leading up the publication of Unspoken, her own updated Gothic. There were all sorts of things, but what it came down to was girls facing down peril alone. She had a very neat post talking about how this reflected girls’ and women’s real positions before they had the right to vote, control their own money, or own property. They really were in peril much of the time, and around the world, many women still are.

Simply to be in peril does not make you a Gothic heroine. You have to be the only one that recognizes or acknowledges it, your concerns are derided or ignored, and you have to fight it on your own. You can have a few allies, but it's really all you, and that's what makes it so compelling.

Both these books drew their power from this girl-against-the-forces-of-evil tension. They weren't perfect novels by any means, but they kept me flipping pages. That is also the great fun of Gothic novels, and why they've been in and out of fashion in popular literature for at least two hundred years.


Beth said...

Don't you also need a huge setting (preferably an old house) component to be a gothic? Usually the house is against the hero.

The dagger illusion in the second book screams gothic to me, though.

Melissa Fox said...

I'd forgotten I wanted to read The Twin's Daughter (Liz B reviewed it, I think). Thanks for reminding me! (Ah, the benefits of reviewing backlist titles. :-D)

Bibliovore said...

Beth, thanks for pointing that out! The Dark Unwinding had a great old house with all sorts of nooks and crannies and possible ghosts. The Twin's Daughter didn't, unless you count their family house, but I can't, really. I always thought of the house as part of the general claustrophobic atmosphere, since it's a physical manifestation of the Gothic heroine's entrapment in a Bad Situation.

In a few weeks, I'm going to post another review of a neo-Gothic that, now that I think about it, actually does have a brooding old house. Well, brooding old boarding school, anyway.

MotherReader said...

I'll be interested to hear more of your thoughts on the Gothic... trend? Can we call it a trend?

Bibliovore said...

I'm calling it a stealth trend. I'm seeing it under "psychological thriller" or "steampunk" or "paranormal," but if you scratch the surface, it's as Gothic as a cathedral.