Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: 30 June 2020
Genre: Horror; Historical Fiction
Content & Trigger Warnings: Graphic violence, possession, suicide, murder, gore, body horror, drugging, family and child deaths, sexism, racism, incest and sexual assault.
*I received this book as an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
**Owing to the often graphic nature of this novel, I would not recommend it to readers under the age of 16
As some of you may know, I have a degree in English literature and during the course of my studies, I was exposed to a lot of literary fiction and classics. I read texts from Chaucer all the way to Margaret Atwood and thoroughly enjoyed every moment (give or take a couple of epic poems). Eventually, I had the privilege of reading Emily and Charlotte Brontë’s incredible novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, two of my favourite books of all time. Their stories are considered gothic owing to the intense emotions, dark happenings, and strange occurrences that take place in them. I loved the eerie tones and colourful characters of each novel and recommend both to everyone I know. So, when I came across Mexican Gothic, I knew I had to give it a try.
Noemi Taboada is a confident, educated and headstrong socialite living in 1950s Mexico City when she receives a distressing letter from her cousin, Catalina. Noemi may not know much about Catalina’s new life or husband since her cousin moved to the rural town of El Triunfo, but that doesn’t stop her from leaving her high life in the city to check on Catalina. However, her trip to the remote mansion of High Place is not as straightforward as it seems. A strange family and even stranger occurrences lead Noemi to believe that there is something more sinister at play and so she decides to investigate further. But will she be able to save Catalina, and herself, from the dangers that lurk within the walls?
There were a couple of elements to this story that I quite enjoyed. The first of these was the dark, gothic setting of High Place. As with any gothic mansion, you expect the dark corridors and sombre mood of the house. But Mexican Gothic takes the space to another level entirely. High Place is not just a gloomy old mansion – it’s a deeply unsettling place. There is a real sense of High Place (and even El Triunfo itself) being a world apart from the ordinary. This is mainly due to the emphasis that Moreno-Garcia places on silence in the story. The Doyle family discourages noise of any sort in High Place, from music to chatter at the dinner table. The townspeople don’t have much of anything to say or share with Noemi and are harbouring many secrets. This atmosphere of silence exacerbated the gothic mood of the novel, making every creak of a stair and patter of rain only that much spookier.
I also loved Noemi’s character. She’s educated, opinionated and not afraid to ask questions where they are definitely not welcome. Noemi poses a threat to the status quo of the Doyle family, who pride themselves on their English manners and narrow perspective on the world. They may try to impede Noemi’s every attempt at finding answers, but she remains unfazed by them and is continuously driven by her desire for truth. I enjoyed seeing how Noemi develops from a superficial character to a multi-layered one over the course of the story and feel that she made some bold and smart moves throughout, especially considering that she is a young woman living in the 1950s. She refuses to be reined in and toyed with, which ultimately leads her to reclaim her power in an interesting way by the end of the novel.
However, despite the well-developed setting and my love for Noemi, the story itself fell flat for me overall. At first, I was intrigued and wanted to uncover the mystery aspects alongside Noemi. But as I got deeper into the novel, a lot of the characters and events felt insubstantial and insignificant to the plot. The constant repetition of certain imagery also felt a bit forced down the reader’s throat and I struggled to see the importance behind the symbolism by the end. Moreno-Garcia put a lot of work in that ended up being inconsequential, and this was hugely frustrating and disappointing for me.
The horror element of the story was also extremely confusing. Whilst there were moments where I felt fearful for the characters and disgusted (even slightly disturbed) by some scenes, I was left confused by how the horror elements were explained. The bizarre mix of eugenics and pure gore made this story read as non-sensical. I felt like there was a lot going on and it was difficult to keep up with the reasoning behind certain events and the role that the Doyle family played in this. I’m all for being horrified, but the story behind the horror element was not clear and it all translated as very messy to me. Overall, I wouldn’t say that this book did a good job of translating the horror aspects off the page – it was just too confusing.
I looked forward to reading this book from the moment that I heard about it and was especially anticipating a spooky read. However, Mexican Gothic was quite underwhelming and ultimately disappointed me in the end. While I enjoyed the gothic elements and how well-constructed Noemi’s character was, the rest of the characters were bland (and sometimes pointless) and the horror aspect of the novel was difficult to follow and incorporated too many ideas. There are many reviews that rave about how incredible this novel is and so I’m likely in the minority here. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading Mexican Gothic, but it is not the story that I expected it to be.
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