“She was halfway to the door when something moved in the corner of her eye. Jane turned to find nothing, save for her reflection in the darkened window. But for just a moment, her reflection looked short, hunched perhaps, and Jane frowned, stepping closer. Her reflection had red eyes” – Caitlin Starling, The Death of Jane Lawrence
In the years following my completion of college, I have made reading for pleasure a priority for myself. It should come as no surprise that my favorite genres to read are horror, mystery, and fantasy. One 2021 novel that has been at the top of my list all year is The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling.
The novel takes place in post-War Britain. Jane Shoringfield is a career-oriented woman who finds solace in numbers and organization. In an attempt to secure a practical marriage so that she may do what she likes with her life, she proposes to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. She joins his surgery as his new accountant (and as-needed medical assistant). After witnessing the care and humanity Dr. Lawrence displays while performing an emergency surgery, she becomes more attracted to his humanity. As her attraction to Augustine grows, he shares that he has developed feelings for her as well. They are soon married, but only after Jane agrees to Augustine’s condition that she will never visit Lindridge Hall, the Lawrence family’s dilapidating estate. Those plans change, however, when a carriage crash on their wedding night leads Jane with no option but to seek shelter at the manor.
Soon after her arrival, Jane notices her new husband acting strangely. He often appears detached from reality, paranoid, and he confuses Jane for a woman from his past named Elodie. Furthermore, Augustine’s medical colleagues seem to be in on his dark secrets as well. Strange figures appear in the night. Jane’s interactions with Augustine become more distressed. Augustine’s dissociation worsens to the point that he is not reachable to care for dying patients and nearly causes harm to Jane, thinking she is Elodie coming back to haunt him. With little option for emancipation or protection, Jane chooses to take the forces of Lindridge Hall and her husband’s wellness into her own hands.
We have had so many great Gothic works over the last few years (see the readalikes for this book listed below), and The Death of Jane Lawrence belongs among the top of them. I read in a synopsis that this book was inspired by Crimson Peak, and I definitely felt that as I read. This book was even more immersive and delectably dark than I hoped it would be. Some passages were so engaged that I found myself squirming as I read. I am not a fan of medical horror, but I was willing to suffer through for this story.
My favorite brand of horror is of the “roses and candelabras” style (my own description); the atmosphere of this novel is exactly what I love to escape within. Starling has created a beautiful and visceral Gothic world that kept me clinging to every word. This novel is proof that horror can be haunting, repulsive, and enchanting all at once.
Overall rating: 4.6/5
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
Until next time,