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Book Review: Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction
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Monster, She Wrote
The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction
Hardcover | Kindle | Audiobook
By Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release date: September 17, 2019

They’re the queens of horror fiction — gothic horror’s founding mother Mary Shelley, haunted house maven Shirley Jackson, and vampire queen of the damned Anne Rice. But did you know that there have been and still are many other women writers like them contributing to the genre for centuries, most of whom wrote under repressive circumstances? Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction, a new non-fiction book from Quirk Books, gives these women and their works a spotlight.

In this 352-page compendium, authors Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson dig deep into the feminine roots of the gothic horror genre, beginning with its precursors Margaret Cavendish and Ann Radcliffe before moving on to the creator herself, Mary Shelley, author of the early 19th century classic Frankenstein.

Everyone knows Frankenstein, right? Thanks to the 20th century depictions of the title scientist’s monstrosity, beginning with Universal’s line of classic monster movies, the story and imagery has remained at the forefront of pop culture for nearly a century. But while audiences are highly familiar with Frankenstein’s monster, many don’t realize that its true progenitor was a 18-year-old pregnant woman, who penned the tale during a rained-out summer stay in Geneva, Switzerland.

Then there’s Shirley Jackson, whose 1948 short story The Lottery unveils a horrific consequence that comes from ritualistic small-town conformity and mob mentality. Jackson was familiar, though thankfully not fatally so, with the concept after she moved with her husband to a small New England town, where she never felt accepted and was pigeonholed as a housewife despite her success as a writer.

And in present day, there’s Anne Rice, whose Lestat, first introduced in her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire, is probably the second most famous vampire after Dracula. Her popular Vampire Chronicles book series, was, like Shelley’s most famous literary work, born of heartache from the loss of a child.

This is just a tiny sampling of the tidbits included in Monster, She Wrote. There are so many more about Shelley and her fellow foremothers of horror as well as those who followed them, such as Elizabeth Gaskell (who frequently butted heads with her editor Charles Dickens over her ghost stories); Marjorie Bowen (born on All Saints Day like me and grew up in a haunted house); V.C. Andrews (her Flowers In The Attic took family drama to terrifying heights); and Edith Wharton (her real-life illnesses were the inspiration for her supernatural tales).

While the book is high informative, it doesn’t present the facts in a dry, academic way. Instead, Kröger and Anderson start right off with all the juicy bits and whatever crazy thing was happening in these writers’ lives, which draws you in immediately. What many of these early women writers did was sometimes considered risqué and even scandalous for their respective times, and some couldn’t even get their works published at first because they were women, which makes their accomplishments even more amazing.

The book is organized chronologically in 8 parts — The Founding Mothers, Haunting Tales, Cult Of The Occult, The Women Who Wrote The Pulps, Haunting The Home, Paperback Horror, The New Goths, and The Future Of Spectulative Fiction — and contains back matters sections for Glossary, Notes, Recommended Readings, and Index. Along with an essay on each author and where they fit into each subgenre is a Reading List that includes titles “not to be missed” to help you become better acquainted with these influential and groundbreaking women writers. The list also includes some recommended titles that are either similar or related to that author’s work. Adorable illustrations by Natalya Balnova add a special touch to the book’s presentation.

Monster, She Wrote is an engrossing, eye-opening encyclopedia on the pioneering women who went against convention and broke down barriers to mold the horror fiction genre, thereby inspiring generations of writers and even filmmakers with their works. Though many of the authors featured throughout the book might be obscure to the average reader, the mini-biographies on them will surely prompt fans of horror fiction to seek out some of the recommended titles from these innovative women writers.

Satisfy your craving for extraordinary authors and exceptional fiction: Meet the women writers who defied convention to craft some of literature’s strangest tales, from Frankenstein to The Haunting of Hill House and beyond.

Frankenstein was just the beginning: horror stories and other weird fiction wouldn’t exist without the women who created it. From Gothic ghost stories to psychological horror to science fiction, women have been primary architects of speculative literature of all sorts. And their own life stories are as intriguing as their fiction. Everyone knows about Mary Shelley, creator of Frankenstein, who was rumored to keep her late husband’s heart in her desk drawer. But have you heard of Margaret “Mad Madge” Cavendish, who wrote a science-fiction epic 150 years earlier (and liked to wear topless gowns to the theater)? If you know the astounding work of Shirley Jackson, whose novel The Haunting of Hill House was reinvented as a Netflix series, then try the psychological hauntings of Violet Paget, who was openly involved in long-term romantic relationships with women in the Victorian era. You’ll meet celebrated icons (Ann Radcliffe, V. C. Andrews), forgotten wordsmiths (Eli Colter, Ruby Jean Jensen), and today’s vanguard (Helen Oyeyemi). Curated reading lists point you to their most spine-chilling tales.

Part biography, part reader’s guide, the engaging write-ups and detailed reading lists will introduce you to more than a hundred authors and over two hundred of their mysterious and spooky novels, novellas, and stories.

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