Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Del Rey (June 30, 2020)
Length: 352 pages
The word “Gothic” is like catnip for me these days, I just can’t resist. So is it any wonder that I was all over this new novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia? I mean, leaving aside the fact I’m also a huge fan of hers. All the books I’ve read by her have been so unique, wonderful and creative, I just couldn’t wait to see what new tale she’ll spin next.
In Mexican Gothic, readers follow young socialite Noemí Taboada as she lives it up in glamorous Mexico City in the 1950s. Everything is turned upside down, however, when our protagonist receives an ominous letter from her cousin Catalina. Recently married, Catalina used to be very close with Noemí until she moved away to live with her husband Virgil at High House, his family mansion. But according to the letter now, Catalina appears to be afflicted with a mysterious illness and her words are filled with worry and fear about living in her new home.
Concerned for her cousin, Noemí agrees to go check up on her and makes the journey to High House. Immediately upon her arrival though, she could sense something very wrong with the place. The mansion is old, dilapidated and unwelcoming. The servants within are listless and withdrawn. Virgil and his family members are cold and stern, obsessed with etiquette and following strict rules. In this stifling environment, Noemí can understand why Catalina would be unhappy, but one look at her cousin and it’s clear that something more happening here. The once vibrant young woman now seems confused, frightened, and not at all like herself. Refusing to believe it’s all due to illness, Noemí decides to do some digging around for herself, uncovering a disturbing history of madness and tragedy behind High House.
Needless to say, there’s a doozy of a mystery behind Mexican Gothic, and it’s one best left for prospective readers to find out for themselves. But just a heads up—this story goes nowhere fast, which is perhaps to be expected with the “Gothic” element in its equation. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the plot itself feels slow, since the author uses that time to gradually and effectively to build up suspense and atmosphere.
Her descriptions of the setting, for example, are incredible. High House is written to feel like a bubble trapped in time, with its crumbling façade and residents restrained by antiquated rules and beliefs. Vivacious, larger-than-life Noemí, who comes from a life of glamor and glitz, feels like a flower transplanted into the wrong pot—which in fact is a metaphor used frequently in the book. Then there are the other people in the house: handsome and charming Virgil, who is clearly hiding something behind that perfect smile; his stony cousin Florence who keeps everyone in line; her son Francis, close in age to Noemí but is timid and sheltered to the extreme; and finally, the patriarch of High House himself, Howard Doyle, an aged man practically on his death bed. It’s all enough to give you the heebie-jeebies.
And if the atmosphere alone doesn’t set your heart a-pounding, then the things Noemí experiences certainly will. Whatever’s wrong with High House also plays tricks with the mind, making our protagonist doubt what she sees and hears. The reader is left wondering what’s real and what’s not, and that’s a mind trip that will surely make your skin crawl.
If you like rooting for a strong and capable heroine though, a clever protagonist who refuses to back down from adversity, then you’ll really enjoy this book. Without Noemí, this novel might have become too dreary and uncomfortable, but her personality is the spark this story needed to keep things sharp and entertaining.
Overall, I really enjoyed Mexican Gothic, and a job well done to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for writing another winner! She’s constantly amazing me with her talent and versatility, the way she seems to excel at whatever genre or style of story she’s telling. So whatever she writes next, you can count on me being there.