Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Calling all fans of literal titles! Yes, Mexican Gothic has a Mexican setting and yes, it is Gothic in genre. This turned out to be a tantalising combination and a nod to the knowing tone that author Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes:

Noemi stepped inside the bedroom and regarded the ancient four-poster bed, which looked like something out of a Gothic tale.

Opening sentence: The parties at the Tunons’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy.

Mexican Gothic is a homage to the great Gothic stories, you’ll pick up vibes of Dracula, The Fall of the House of Usher and lots of direct references scattered throughout:

She recalled that Mary Shelley had rendezvoused with her future husband in a cemetery: illicit liaisons by a tomb. Catalina had told her this story, just as she had gushed over Wuthering Heights.

I enjoy playing the ‘tick-the-Gothic-conventions-off-the-list’ game when reading Gothic books. It sort of makes me fizz with anticipation when the lead character is summoned to a sinister, isolated house with a suspicious past. Does that happen here? Why, yes.

Let’s set the scene

We’re transported back to 1950s Mexico where we meet Noemi Taboadas, a popular socialite. She is fascinated with anthropology and wants to study it at university, but her parents are far more keen for her to marry a man from the right family. She is the strong, feminist before her time that wonderfully drives this book.

When Noemi’s father receives a disturbing letter from her recently-married cousin Catalina, Noemi is dispatched to Catalina’s new home, High Place, in the remote village of El Triunfo to see what’s wrong with her… Noemi knows little about her cousin’s new husband, the mysterious Virgil Doyle, so endeavours to find out more.

So, once Noemi arrived at High Place, what could I tick off the Gothic convention list? Well… the electricity doesn’t work so they rely on candles for light (tick), there are rogue mushrooms, mould and fungus growing throughout the house to give a damp, unwelcome atmosphere (tick), there is a cemetery attached to the creepy house (tick), mysterious deaths of miners that worked for the Doyle family (tick), Noemi has lots of inexplicable nightmares (tick), the townspeople believe the Doyle family are cursed (tick), the family patriarch, Howard Doyle is inexplicable old and very sinister (tick). Yes, Mexican Gothic is a veritable feast of conventions! And that’s what makes it so brilliant. It’s taken its theme and run with it.

They’re cursed, I tell you, and that house is haunted. You’re very silly or very brave living in a haunted house.

Scenes of a graphic nature

This is by far the most gruesome contemporary Gothic novel I’ve read so far. I know that there is an element of gore in the genre, but I’m not a huge fan of horror books and some parts of this book skimmed very close to the horror line for me. I will say this though, it conjured up some vivid scenes that will be etched in my brain for a while to come. They didn’t feel excessive either – very much a necessary (if gory) part of the story.

Interestingly, Mexican Gothic didn’t end up taking me down the narrative path I thought I was going on, which mades it a very entertaining read. Definitely add to your list if you love a clever Gothic tale.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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