Caitlin Starling is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Death of Jane Lawrence. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.
Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.
Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.
What’s Caitlin’s favorite bit?
To get to my favorite bit of The Death of Jane Lawrence, I’m going to need you up to speed on a few things. Here there be spoilers (though small).
When Jane meets Augustine, she knows three things: he’s a skilled surgeon, he lives in a family estate out of town, and she’s going to marry him. She doesn’t expect him to be handsome.
What follows is a whirlwind business negotiation. Jane is after a marriage of convenience, Augustine never intended to marry but will if Jane agrees to never visit his family estate, and neither intends to or even wants to fall in love. Intimacy defeats both their purposes. It’s almost unfair how well they get along, working side by side to tend to patients, revealing deep-held fears about themselves, being, perhaps, too eager to confirm their engagement.
And then comes the wedding night. An unexpected parade of wellwishers and a misunderstanding with the surgery porter sends Jane and Augustine to the manor outside of town. A moment alone in Augustine’s study, surrounded by medical curiositiies and leering skulls, almost leads to something far more amorous than either expected. And then, when Jane is sent back to town at sundown, a storm breaks, and her carriage is nearly washed off the road. She’s left stranded in the pounding rain, too far from town to walk, too close to Augustine’s home not to return.
Augustine has insisted, again and again, that she must never stay the night at Lindridge Hall. But this is an emergency; surely he’ll understand.
Jane reaches the house. Nobody comes to let her in. She makes her way inside, then up the darkened stairs, unsettled and beginning to grow afraid as she approaches Augustine’s study once more:
“She at last reached the study door, the gap between it and the floor glowing warmly, invitingly.
And then it went dark.
She dropped her case with a heavy thud and pressed both hands to the door. “Augustine,” she said, voice catching. “Are you there?”
What if it wasn’t him?
Jane shuddered. This was ridiculous. She was still overwrought from the carriage crash, and she was cold, and if only Augustine would open the door, it would all be made right. It would all-
The door opened a half inch.
The light from the hall spilled in across him, revealing wide eyes, pale skin. His hair was wild, and his posture was of a man hunted. His fingers held tight to the doorframe in terror.
And then she blinked, and he was himself again.”
(THE DEATH OF JANE LAWRENCE, chapter 8)
I have a lot of favorite bits in The Death of Jane Lawrence. So many, in fact, that even ruling out the entirely too-spoilery end of the book options, I almost couldn’t choose. But this, right here? The moment when the book goes from vaguely ominous to Jane, you are in a horror novel? It’s one of the best.
Have you ever watched the trailer for the movie Red Eye? It starts out looking like a traditional romantic comedy, only to take a hard right turn into absolute terror. The movie does the same, although, like Jane, it seeds hints of wrongness early, priming us to be uncertain, to be ready. It’s a tricky line to walk; you don’t want to promise the audience the wrong thing. But for the shock of Augustine’s transformation to hit, it needs to be just that. A transformation. Likewise, the awkwardly easy, passionate courtship of Jane and Augustine needs to be sweet despite its sometimes gorey trappings in order for us to fear its rupture.
The wedding night is not the rupture. Not yet. The fullness of the horror comes later. But this first true crack in the life Jane has seized for herself makes me shiver every time. The wedding night, the storm, the desperate flight to her husband’s house past sunset-
It’s the point of no return. And Lindridge Hall will never let her go again.
Caitlin Starling is an award-winning writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction. Her novel The Luminous Dead won the LOHF Best Debut award, and was nominated for both a Locus and a Bram Stoker award. Her other works include Yellow Jessamine and a novella in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us. Her nonfiction has appeared in Nightmare and Uncanny. Caitlin also works in narrative design, and has been paid to invent body parts. Find her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter