Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. 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.
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.
Trigger Warnings: suicidal attempts, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, gaslighting, domestic abuse, incest, blood, gore, white supremacy, sexual harrasment, drinking, attempted rape.
A heroine is wearing a glamorous dress, Elizabeth Arden lipstick, and a boy toy hooked on her arm. It’s 1950s Mexico. Her father waits for her with a mystery to be solved. Her cousin, Catalina, wrote a letter to her uncle of her marriage, which is full of poison and visions.
In a small and spooky place is a little British town with an old history of mining, death and decay. An English family settled in Mexico, taking it upon themselves to dominate that place and create utter chaos for its people. Cemeteries and mist, ruins and old houses, paranoia and sickness, destructive nature and dark threats consume this place. Noemí is introduced to the Doyles, a very strange family and their grand house. In old halls, stairways, men drinking their whiskey, paintings of long dead Doyles, and old colonial traditions is a tale of horror. Something is beneath the traditions and falsehoods.
Every which way Noemí tries to figure out why her cousin is suddenly ill and full of paranoia, the Doyles have an excuse and a cold shoulder. She, their guest, is invited to stay but she cannot smoke, she is told to follow their every rule, and she must not go into town.
With a slow smile, Mexican Gothic seduces you into its pages.
Mexican Gothic is the most rapturous heroine, a lipstick and a knife in one purchase. Noemí is not the damsel in distress, like so many heroines of Gothic Horror novels or even of fairy tales. She has come to save her cousin but there happens to be another damsel that needs some saving, a young shy Doyle disgusted by his own family’s atrocities. Francis, the Mina Harker situation of this novel, is a pale and submissive boy who offers her his sweater, picks mushrooms from the cemetery, and shows her all his nerdy books. She plots and he joins her.
Noemí has a quick tongue, a fast attitude, and a great dress but she is met with gaslighting, paranoia, and lucid dreams. All the dreams, the paranoia, the cold and abusive tendencies of the Doyles. It all makes her question herself. Rudeness is transformed. Reality is twisted.
I found in Noemí the type of heroine I love to read. A knife for a tongue, unabashedly vain, drops a suitor like the drop of a hat, a suave sense of style and really could not care if you find her unlikeable in the least. She is saving her cousin and that is that. She does not play the rules these Victorians have for ladies.
Gothic Romance/Gothic Horror
Silvia Moreno-Garcia creates a dark, looming, and destructive tone while threading in the beautiful descriptions typical of Gothic Horror novels, like Dracula. Tumors are described as flowering, wallpaper revealing organs underneath and cemeteries have a deathly and destructive silence.
In an interview, Moreno-Garcia said that she did not think of the romantic gothics like Wuthering Heights but of Gothic Horrors like Dracula.
Mexican Gothic is firmy in the subgenre of Gothic Horror. I know that the differences between Gothic Horror and Gothic Romance can understandably be very confusing but just a reminder that Romance, as in the literary tradition, already finds itself within Gothic Horror. If the descriptions seem romantic to you that’s because that is already a staple of Gothic Horror.
“I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air.” (Bram Stoker, Dracula).
Gothic Horror is a battle against forces of evil, sometimes supernatural and sometimes not. The settings are oppressive, inescapable, and bleak. Like Dracula, Mexican Gothic is not without love, beauty, or heroics. It is just that it is not Gothic Romance because the main category of the novel is Gothic Horror, which in itself plays with Romance.
The Victorian romanticism suddenly becomes a horror rather than a fairy tale in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s world of little chaotic beauties. It is rot, decay, and death, not the high romance of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Rather the classics of Gothic Romance are used to juxtapose the horror from the romantic. Moreno-Garcia uses Catalina’s desires for the romantics of Gothic novels to show the reality. Catalina loves old houses, moonlight, and the old Gothic novels by the Brontë sisters. Noemí’s cousin always did love the princes and princesses of fairy tales but Moreno-Garcia reminds the reader that many fairy tales were actually horror stories.
Perhaps, also she is saying that these Victorian romantics with their candleabras and their English traditions oft seen as romantic fairy tales are just horror stories too.
Like the description of the wall paper being peeled away to reveal the horrible truth, it is what is underneath the romantics that shows the truth. Catalina wanted a fairy tale but found a horror novel instead.
The Doyles take on the scarier parts of the old white Victorian families via eugenics and”keeping the lines close” nonsense.
The horror of dreams leads to the idea that desire can also be horror.
Dark meat, she thought. Nothing but meat, she was the equivalent of a cut of beef inspected by the butcher and wrapped up in waxed paper. An exotic little something to stir the loins and make the mouth water.
The horrible is the old fashioned white family instead of Noemí, who in many other novels would have been seen as the strange and exoticized character.
Throughout the entire book, you cringe in the way you should cringe when reading a horror novel. The slow and seductive pace adds to the dark atmospherics of the novel. The dream. The mushrooms, the mushrooms, the mushrooms.
Point blank. This is the scariest book I’ve ever read.