When The Scotsman dubbed Beneath the Skin ‘Stockbridge Gothic’ I was highly delighted. Gothic is definitely my go-to zone when I’m dreaming up the mad, the bad and the dangerous!
Those of you who have already read the book may have noted a few nods to my all time favourite Frankenstein. I won’t give any games away, but if you have spotted the clues, then feel free to start a conversation! This has made me think about my own relationship with the Gothic, and how it has influenced my writing. For me, I suppose the defining element of the genre is setting, and the development of architecture and landscape as characters within that context. I’m thinking about the labyrinthine Castle of Otranto, the windswept bleakness of Wuthering Heights, and the haunted attic of Charlotte Bronte’s lesser-known Villette.
In Alys’s Stockbridge villa, the damp basement, the creaking staircase, the cramped attic all take on a life of their own. There is a sense that the house is less than welcoming, resistant to the notion of being a family ‘home’. We might call such an atmosphere ‘uncanny’, a concept which, interestingly, stems from the German Unheimlich, best translated as ‘un-homely’.
In his treatise on the Uncanny, Freud quotes the philosopher Schelling: ’Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and has become visible.’
All that stuff we carry ‘beneath the skin’ perhaps…
I’ll leave you with an appropriate quote. Walt, just out of bed, makes his way to the kitchen…
‘…the hall felt somehow odd. It took him right back to being a kid again, when you come back from holidays and the house feels cold and damp…has a distance about it. He remembered how his mam used to stand in the porch, sniffing, in case she’d forgotten to chuck out the milk, or the cloths had rebelled in her absence and gone sour. And here he was, sniffing,like his mam used to do. A house with a kid in it shouldn’t feel this way.’
From Beneath the Skin (Polygon) 2016