Domestic noir and the #MeToo moment

Gone Girls and their sisters in a genre that capitalizes on women’s deepest fears 

In Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Guardian review of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger—a post-war tale of a haunted mansion—she refers to the protagonist, Dr. Faraday, in his most important role: the skeptic. “Every ghost story,” Mantel writes, “needs a Dr. Faraday, a blunt literalist with a sturdy sense of self.” And whose sense of self could be sturdier than an English country doctor’s?

It’s no coincidence that Faraday is first called to the manor to treat an anxious serving girl, the least powerful, and therefore least reliable, member of the household. Before long both the elderly lady of the house and her daughter develop symptoms. Indeed, there is only one man in the family, the shell-shocked brother. He is quickly dispatched to an institution, leaving Faraday as a kind of de facto head of the household. The doctor’s real role, to pare back to essentials, is the patriarchal authority. Mantel...