Absolutely chilling. That’s the best thing I can come up with to describe Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest release, Mexican Gothic. When this book popped up on my radar over a month ago, I knew it was going to be incredible. I haven’t read any of Moreno-Garcia’s other books, but I had heard a lot about Certain Dark Things when it came out and had it on my list of vampire books to check out eventually.
Mexican Gothic had a strong marketing campaign. It started appearing all over the place when I was searching for random things online. The more I read about it, the more I convinced myself it was going to be a killer read. The quintessential gothic styled novel, updated for today’s reader and presented in a location underutilized in that genre and with unsettling, brooding characters. As soon as my pre-ordered copy hit my desk, I dove in. Glorious terror and creepiness abounds in Mexican Gothic.
Beware: a few spoilers lie ahead.
Mexican Gothic introduces the reader to Noemi Taboada, a flirtatious vibrant young woman living in 50’s era Mexico City with her parents. After being pulled out of a party early, Noemi is informed by her illustrious father that her cousin, Catalina, has sent a strange letter from her new home in High Place. Catalina’s letter is meandering, fraught with panic, and speaks of someone trying to poison her. Noemi’s father sends Noemi on a mission to High Place to find out exactly what is wrong with her cousin and whether or not she requires help.
High Place is a great dark house looming in the hills of a destitute old mining town in the Mexican countryside. As soon as Noemi arrives, she is overcome by a sense of foreboding. Everyone that lives in High Place is accustomed to the lack of modern electricity, the silence, and they wish to keep things that way. Catalina’s husband, Virgil, is cold and absolute in his resolve that Catalina doesn’t need a psychiatrist in spite of her ramblings of ghosts in the walls. Florence, the house’s matriarch, is firm in her laws about the house, including no speaking at dinner time, no smoking inside, and no driving into town unless accompanied by one of the less than friendly house staff. Virgil’s father, Howard, is spine-chilling in his desire to talk about eugenics and his superior family stature. The only person Noemi seems to connect with is Florence’s diffident son, Francis, but even he has secrets about the family he’s unwilling to divulge.
The longer Noemi spends in the house, the more it becomes apparent that there is something unearthly about this place, something gnarled and rooted deep in the family cemetery that seems to have a hold over everyone at High Place. Noemi’s curiosity and defiance are brave in the face of constant rebuttal. Having a protagonist that defies the idea of pushing family secrets under the rug is a classic and necessary element of Gothic fiction. Noemi is used to music and dancing, mirth and laughter…all of the things that High Place and its inhabitants are not. The more she pokes, the more they put up their hackles and bare their fangs.
Reading Mexican Gothic immediately reminded me of classic Gothic fiction titles such as Northanger Abbey, The Turn of the Screw, and Jane Eyre, though the language and descriptions immediately made the book feel refreshed and ready for today’s audiences. This was a book that had me guessing what was going to happen from page to page and drew me in to the mystery pretty quickly. I spent an entire rainy Saturday afternoon rapt with attention toward what Noemi would eventually find at High Place.
This immediately feels like it will be a classic Gothic title. I’d even happily wish for a film version of this, though descriptions were so vivid, the reader could see everything happening easily. I’ve added more novels from Silvia Moreno-Garcia to my reading list and will be excited to jump into them just as heartily as I jumped into this one.
Next up, I’m currently reading the new release from Zoie Stage, Wonderland. Stay tuned for a review on that next week!