It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of immersing myself in a Gothic story, so I was psyched to get my hands on The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. Published in October, Starling’s third novel is a blend of horror and psychological thriller infused with all of your favorite Gothic tropes, from the old and dilapidated haunted house, to the labyrinth in the home’s family crypt, to supernatural hauntings and magical rituals (not to mention a cursed husband!). Without further ado, let’s dive into this intoxicating read.
Taking place in a fictional setting akin to post-war Great Britain, but with anachronistic cultural aspects reminiscent of the 1800s, this story revolves around two primary characters: Jane, a strong and practical female protagonist, and Dr. Augustine Lawrence, a renowned surgeon with a small practice in the town of Larrenton. Realizing she must marry in order to continue her professional work as an accountant, Jane considers several eligible men in town before offering a business-like arrangement to Augustine. In this arrangement, they would marry solely on professional grounds, with no intimacies expected or desired, in order to advance in their respective occupations. After due hesitation and consideration, Augustine agrees to the proposal under one strict condition: Jane must never stay with him at Lindridge Hall, his family’s manor just outside of town.
Naturally, this condition is quickly broken just a week later upon their wedding day. After having dinner together at Lindridge Hall, Jane leaves at nightfall to stay at Augustine’s surgery in town, but is thwarted from returning when a heavy rainstorm overturns her carriage. Resigned to walking back to the manor, certain her newly-wedded husband would understand the extenuating circumstances of her return, she quickly finds herself experiencing a very different side of Augustine – one who is terrified, haunted, and seemingly at a remove from reality. Upon waking in the morning, however, Augustine acts as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred. As circumstance after circumstance prevents her from leaving the hall, Jane begins to learn of dark secrets Augustine is hiding from her and everything she thought to be true starts to unravel around her.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and appreciated the deep and complex character development of both Jane and Augustine. They are both extremely complicated characters, as is their relationship throughout the book, and I enjoyed not knowing who to trust as I read the story. I also enjoyed how every page dripped with Gothicism; it reminded me of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, so I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed that novel (here is a blog I wrote on that title last year). I also highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good dose of horror heavily steeped in psychology. I know I will definitely be following Starling’s future releases and reading her first two novels!
DISCLAIMER: While I did enjoy this book, I will admit several passages were a bit hard to read due to their gruesome nature; this primarily comes from descriptions of medical procedures and magical rituals.
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