Book: “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publishing Info: Del Rey, June 2020
Where Did We Get This Book: NetGalley; Edelweiss
Book Description: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . .
From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico—“fans of classic novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca are in for a suspenseful treat” (PopSugar).
After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She’s such a unique talent. I’ve now read three or four books by her, and they all spanned different time periods, genres, and themes. It’s truly incredible to find an author who can succeed in so many different lanes. We’ve got fairytale fantasy; we’ve got historical regency romance with a dash of fantasy; and now she comes with a new story mixing fantasy (of course) with gothic horror. And while horror isn’t typically my thing, I do like the creepy novel now and then, and this one seemed like just the thing for me.
The story definitely has some “Yellow Wallpaper” vibes, and I loved every bit of it. When Noemi arrives at the mysterious mansion, High Place, everything is just enough off to feel strange and eerie, but not too strange as to immediately raise alarm. Instead, it’s just the type of creepy dread that makes Noemi, and the reader, begin to question just where the line is drawn between reality and superimposed horror. Are their true mysteries here or is the setting, people, and house, all in their equal strangeness, just enough to spark a wild imagination?
Throughout the story, I found myself routinely falling into the classic horror-bystander role where you scream “just get out of there” at your heroes as they creep into a dark basement or linger in a mysterious place. But the author does a great job creating a situation where the threats are of the sort that if I had been in Noemi’s place, I, too, may have questioned my own reactions. This ties nicely into some fairly well-covered themes about women and how they are almost trained to question their perception of things and doubt their own observations. The question of whether one will be believed or not, or simply dismissed as hysterical, is very real today as it was in the past. And, of course, in the past and the time period during which this is set, women’s choices were that much more limited, especially when married.
I did find elements of the fantastical elements involved in the story to be a bit confusing and hard to track. A long history begins to unfold, and I wasn’t quite sure how exactly it all tied together. But most of the time, this didn’t matter as I was so caught up in the tension that it was enough to accept that it just was. I really loved the Gothic vibes that were brought into the story, and they were blended seamlessly into a location and culture where you don’t typically find this type of story. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, creepiness and all!
I love the horror genre as a whole, but it’s hard to deny that a lot of the powerhouses and more popular works are very white dominated. That isn’t to say that progress isn’t being made; on the contrary, as pushes for diversity ramp up in publishing we are seeing more horror tales written by BIPOC. But we still have a long way to go. When I heard about “Mexican Gothic”, I was thrilled to see that we had a take on the Gothic genre from a perspective that wasn’t a white woman, as is the usual suspect within this kind of tale. I will admit that I was a little nervous going in, as Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other work I’m familiar with is fantasy. Would she be able to make such a huge switch in genre tone? Turns out I was a dope to worry about it, because she nailed the scare factor and creepiness in “Mexican Gothic”.
Noemí is the perfect Gothic protagonist, as she comes from a gregarious and effervescent lifestyle in Mexico City and being thrust into the isolation of the Mexican countryside. It is the exact kind of scenario you see in the genre, and her personality of wanting to figure out what is going on, and then questioning if she is just overreacting when those around her dismiss her, feels so right for the Gothic vibes. But Moreno-Garcia takes it a couple steps further, not only taking on the themes of sexism and misogyny that are prevalent in Gothic lit, but also that of racism and prejudice. Noemí and her cousin are two Latina women who are now living in an English family’s estate, and their history of colonization in the area is what built up their wealth… and also may have something to do with the secrets they are hiding. For Noemí and Catalina, not only are they vulnerable because they are women, but also because they are brown women, and that fact is a really great way to make this story feel all the more fresh and relevant.
And the horror elements were definitely unsettling and outright scary. Not only the fantastical and supernatural ones, but also the real life horrors that Noemí discovers during her time at High Place. As Serena mentioned above, there are the questions as to whether or not Noemí is slowly losing her grip on reality, or if the things she’s experiencing, unsettling imagery and sounds and feelings, are actually happening. There were some really well described moments that made me squirm, which is exactly what I want from a Gothic horror novel.
“Mexican Gothic” is a great spooky read, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to delight and show off her talents! Fans of Gothic novels absolutely need to check it out.
Serena’s Rating 9: Tension-filled and scary, this book makes it easy to feel as if you, too, are being sucked into the mysteries of High Place.
Kate’s Rating 9: A creepy and refreshing take on the genre, “Mexican Gothic” will fill all you may need from a good Gothic tale!
“Mexican Gothic” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Gothic”, and “Paper Lantern Writers: Best Own Voices Historical Fiction”.