Gothic Revival, the Year’s Best Horror Novel

The Bottom LineWinner, Best Horror Noveo, The Book Awards. Highly recommended.

Gothic Revival opens as Eric Asher, celebrity novelist and oscar-nominated screenwriter, sends an out-of-the-blue invitation to a group of old grad school friends. In the letter, which acknowledges that he’s become a recluse, he offers to fly them to San Francisco, then whisk them away by private plane to a remote lake villa for “four days of fun, nostalgia, inspiration, creativity, and reward.” The reflective, playful letter ends on a somewhat desperate, potentially ominous postscript: “It’s imperative that everyone be there. If for some reason you cannot attend on those dates, let me know ASAP, and I will reschedule.”

What could possibly go wrong? 

Even before the group sets foot on the plane, it’s clear that the reunion is going to be a bumpy one. The entire group attended the same creative writing MFA program, and each has grown self-conscious about their respective levels of professional success. As an example, one of Eric’s character’s has become a cultural icon, while free-spirited Fiona sees herself as living essentially the same life she did years ago. Among the group, jealousy, suspicion and resentment bubbles to the surface at the mere thought of seeing each other. 

Author Michael Mullin demonstrates his flair for world-building as the group first arrives at the imposing, ivy-covered stone manor (the ivy mass was shaped like a hand, albeit with only three fingers and a thumb). Once onsite, the goal of the reunion becomes clear. In the spirit of the legendary gathering at Villa Diodati in 1816, where a group of luminaries including Lord Byron and Mary Shelly assembled and the character Frankenstein was born, Eric has recast his old friends as those iconic literary figures. Eric proposes they write ghost stories, paying tribute to their esteemed predecessors in a contemporary homage.

What happens next is a hugely entertaining journey that works as both a high-concept thriller and as a work of deeply absorbing psychological suspense. Mullin had us from the first page with his brilliant setup, but the execution and journey are completely satisfying. While fans of recent destination thriller hits The Guest List and Glass Onion will no doubt be pleased, the book is smarter and more complex than either. An abundance of literary references are sure to hit home with anyone who majored in English lit, while those not familiar will need to keep Google at the ready. Highly recommended.

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