Book Review: 'Mexican Gothic'
Noemí Taboada is a young, well-off, intelligent woman who enjoys the life of a debutant. The last thing she wants is to visit the dreary and isolated Mexican mountainside estate of High Place where her cousin Catalina now lives with her English husband, Virgil Doyle. But Noemí and her father receive a distressing letter from Catalina that prompts Noemí to check up on her cousin. When Noemí arrives at High Place, she immediately realizes that something is terribly wrong, not only with Catalina but also with the Doyles, the servants, and High Place itself.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a horror novel that remolds and transplants the traditional gothic narrative into 1950s Mexico with expertly crafted suspense, romance, mystery, and horrifying revelations. Beautifully written, Moreno-Garcia stylishly illustrates the novel’s various settings, which is an all-important element of gothic stories. The descriptions carry the reader through a bustling city, a picturesque village, sweeping mountain and forest landscapes, and into the moody estate of High Place. These descriptions offer readers various views of Mexico: industrial and modern, peaceful and pastoral, eerie and mysterious. Each setting is elegantly detailed, beckoning readers to step into the scene, moving alongside Noemí as she travels to and attempts escape from High Place.
As with the scenery, the characters are also fleshed out and beautifully written, turning the tables on traditional gothic character tropes. Noemí is a well-rounded and fresh take on the gothic heroine. A Mexican socialite, she is equally interested in parties as she in in her education. She is cunning, brave, determined, and willful. Noemí is the detective and the action hero, all the while completely and gloriously feminine, not because she must be but because she wants to be.
Then there is Francis Doyle, Virgil’s unassuming cousin. He is a perfect counterpart to Noemí’s tenacious, energetic, and vibrant personality. Francis is delicate, sweet, polite, and empathetic. His character is a refreshing depiction of the traditional gothic male protagonist. He is timid and soft, but those qualities are not negatively placed on him, rather his delicate sweetness helps to garner Noemí’s, and the readers’, affection.
Catalina and Virgil have more traditional roles usually seen in gothic literature. Catalina is the damsel in distress and Virgil is the dastardly villain. But they have become these tropes because of trauma, painful childhoods, and abuse rather than because of outdated social labeling expected in literature. For this reason, their more traditional roles have been modernized and given agency.
Brilliantly creepy, the novel whisks readers from the safety of Noemí’s home into the disturbing realm of High Place. The pacing is gracefully done, creating equal parts dread and fascination as the plot and characters pull readers onto the next page. For fans of gothic horror looking for a contemporary and diverse narrative with all the moody atmosphere and detailed description of classic gothic, Mexican Gothic artfully delivers.
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey | Penguin Random House