M. G Lewis – The Monk (New English Library, 1973)
The first ever Brit horror pulp? Probably not, but if you’re only going to read one Gothic novel, make sure it’s M. G. Lewis’s extraordinary romp. At the novel’s outset, Ambrosio is little short of a Saint on earth, but once he’s been seduced by novice Matilda – a demon in female guise – he embarks on a clandestine career that takes in murder, matricide, rape and incest and damns him to Hell. Meanwhile, a fine cast of Spectral, bleeding and pregnant Nuns, The Wandering Jew and the suitably grim agents of the Inquisition all play their part in keeping up the frantic pace right through to the terrifying climax. Incredibly, Lewis was just eighteen when he wrote this in 1797, having been influenced by the morbid fiction emanating from Germany and that other great, bloody Gothic, the Marquis de Sade’s Justine.