Deliciously hypnotizing and atmospheric, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a gothic horror novel crawling in mystique and tension.
In 1950’s Mexico, Noemí Taboada, a young, outgoing socialite, receives an alarming letter from her newlywed cousin, Catalina. In the letter, Catalina asks her cousin to save her from a mysterious and vague evil. Armed with her wit and style, Noemí embarks on a journey to High Place — the aging and beautiful mansion that Catalina resides in.
There she meets Catalina’s in-laws—the Doyle family composed of various charming, illusive, and downright creepy white people who live in the countryside of Hidalgo, Mexico. English is the only language they allowed to speak, and the estate is crawling with dreary awe—like a fog of rotting decadence. Determined to get to the bottom of the issue, Noemí begins to have vivid, unsettling, dreams about the inhabitants of High Place. As the book progresses, her unsettling adventure takes a darker, more paranormal turn. Content warnings for sexual assault and violence.
This book is lush with gothic elements, influences and prose. Expect to see damsels in distress, gloom, doom, secret hidden rooms and more! As a Mexican American reader, it’s great to see another side of Mexico that we are not always given the chance to read in English-language literature. I love that this book was not written for the white gaze and instead examines the genre through a much-needed brown perspective.
In the gothic and horror genres, there is an idea of the “other,” the mysterious monster, or giant unknown that threatens the existence of the protagonists or their way of life. This book is centered around Noemí, who because of her brown skin and more indigenous features is a big “other” to the Doyles. (Moreno-Garcia makes note of it on a Twitter thread here.) I enjoyed that this book makes a point to show that Noemí’s “other” vs the Doyles’ “other” are different things.
Mexican Gothic also dissects the concept of eugenics through its plot. In Latinx communities, there is a concept of “mejorando la raza” aka bettering the race or marrying whiter people to wash the indigenous away from the bloodline. Moreno-Garcia takes this idea and dives deep with it, through a gothic lens. It’s unsettling and horrific because it’s based on reality, one that has plagued the community for generations upon generations.
Without spoiling too much, the incorporation of fungi growing on the estate grounds and generational almost regurgitated toxic behavior made for an unnerving third act—so if you get spooked easily, keep that in mind!
Mexican Gothic is as captivating as it is spooky, and I think readers will be immersed from start to finish.