This one is likely going to be long and full of spoilers. If you intend to read Mexican Gothic (2020 Random House) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and don’t want spoilers, just tiptoe on out. I’ll wait.
Mexican Gothic was one of the most anticipated reads of the summer, and its gorgeous cover was everywhere; it’s so pretty it hurts. I’m not saying I ordered it because of the cover, but I’m also not saying I didn’t. Seriously – how flipping gorgeous is it? I’ve never read Silvia Moreno-Garcia before, but dark and twisty and multicultural? Sold.
(Last chance to leave.)
At its heart, Mexican Gothic is (surprise, surprise) a gothic set in Mexico. I’ve seen some people dismayed that this book with that cover is a horror novel. Umm… it’s in the title?
Suspense and fear – check
Damsel in distress – check
Creepy setting – check
Anti-hero – check
Male villain with a god-complex – check, check
Supernatural elements – check
Taste of romance – check
Melodrama – check
Nightmares and bad omens – check, check, check
Y’all. It’s a gothic novel, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells you as much in the title. What exactly were you expecting?
Set in the 1950s, Mexican Gothic centers around Noemi Taboada, a flighty socialite who is more interested in pursuing education than pursuing marriage. She flits through life not only knowing how to get what she wants, but consistently getting it. When a concerning letter arrives from her cousin Catalina, she is called from a masquerade party where she in dressed as Spring. (Take note.) The letter is disturbing. Rambling. Disconcerting. Her father tells her that he wants her to visit her cousin, to see if she needs psychiatric help. Noemi doesn’t want to go, but he tells her if she does, he will allow her to pursue her dream of a Master’s degree in anthropology. She packs her bags with party dresses and cigarettes and heads to El Triunfo and High Place, the very English home of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle.
High Place is a run-down Victorian mansion high in the mountains. A thick and unnerving mist settles around the house and the English graveyard. The home is falling apart and mold has taken over the walls, the books, the ceilings. A dampness clings to the air and Noemi’s skin; she can see how her cousin could go mad in a place like that.
The patriarch of the Doyle family is the decrepit and disturbing Howard Doyle. Everything at High Place is run to his liking and demand. He takes a fancy to Noemi, and her first encounter with him involves an uneasy conversation about eugenics. She should have taken one look at all that blonde hair, blue eyes, and a family tree with seriously crossed branches and ran. But she didn’t.
Howard looks down upon the locals, despite his former mining success (and his home) having been built upon their backs (and bones). Mulch. Nothing more than mulch. He even brought European soil with him to grow English roses around his very Victorian home. He brought an English doctor to treat the family as he doesn’t trust the local doctor. Spanish is not to be spoken in the home; he never bothered to learn it. He’s an old man when Noemi visits High Place, but she recognizes the darkness of his heart and his power almost immediately.
Noemi quickly learns that the house, with a skeleton in every closet, is alive and she is trapped in its walls. But the house doesn’t speak Spanish, and Noemi does. With the help of a living Doyle and a dead one, Noemi might be able to break the curse and free herself and Catalina.
“Open your eyes.”
Not only is Mexican Gothic a gothic novel, it’s a gothic novel with postcolonial elements and hints of “writing back.” The “writing back” in this novel, however, is not to the Spanish empire – it is to a Western world and a literary canon that has long denied diversity. The novel openly evokes popular fairy-tales of the Western world, the Bronte sisters and other Victorian literature, and sprinkles elements of canonical gothic literature throughout (including a heavy nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”). The canon is turned on its head, chewed up slowly and with careful consideration by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and spat out as a remarkable and very Mexican gothic.