Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was one of the most anticipated books of the summer. It’s a Gothic novel with classic creepiness, and although it’s a bit slow at times — as Gothic novels can be due to the element of waiting — overall it’s full of suspense, interesting characters, and some serious weirdness.
Noemí Taboada is the college-aged socialite daughter of a wealthy family in Mexico City. It’s the 1950s. Noemí is smart and wants to pursue graduate studies, but she also likes to party and cycle through the many male admirers that catch her eye. Her family is ramping up pressure on her to choose an appropriate man to marry. When her father calls Noemí away from a party, she obeys.
The father has received a distressing letter from his niece, Catalina, who was orphaned and lived with his family before marrying a stranger last year. He wants Noemí to visit her cousin in the remote rural area where she now lives with her husband’s family to assess the situation, but she must tell no one where she’s going or why. Not even her mother. God forbid a whiff of a scandal gets out. He offers his daughter a bribe: if Noemí does this for him, he’ll allow her to attend the graduate program she desires.
Growing up, Noemí idolized her older cousin Catalina and loved the fairy tales she used to tell the younger children. Here’s an exchange between Noemí and Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle, shortly after Noemí arrives at the Doyle’s family mansion. It neatly sums up the differences between the two cousins:
“Is your room satisfactory?” Virgil asked, his tone warming, turning a bit more cordial. She was, perhaps, not his enemy.Pages 34-35
“It’s fine. Having no electricity is odd, but I don’t think anyone has died from a lack of light bulbs yet.”
“Catalina thinks the candlelight is romantic.”
Noemí supposed she would. It was the kind of thing she could imagine impressing her cousin: an old house atop a hill, with mist and moonlight, like an etching out of a Gothic novel. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, those were Catalina’s sort of books. Moors and spiderwebs. Castles too, and wicked stepmothers who force princesses to eat poisoned apples, dark fairies cursing maidens and wizards who turn handsome lords into beasts. Noemí preferred to jump from party to party on a weekend and drive a convertible.”
Catalina is not well and Noemí is frustrated by both the limited access she has to her cousin as well the unsatisfactory answers about her condition. The Doyle family patriarch is also ill and although the younger generation lacks outward expressions of warmth, his two sons and daughter attend to him faithfully. The family doctor visits weekly.
The house is moldy, the family eats in complete silence or alone in their rooms. The couple times Noemí goes into town, she hears rumors about the Doyles. They were once a powerful family but have fallen on hard times since the Revolution and the closing of the silver mine they owned.
The novel is a bit of a slow burn. Until it’s not. The story brings to mind classic horror tales and also suspense classics like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
It’s a deliciously malignant horror novel that will be just as enjoyable the second time around when the reader can pick up more of the clues that the author has left along the way in the telling this dark tale. It’s a smart novel that incorporates science, history, fashion, feminism, anti-colonialism and more.
It’s a story that continues to grow in esteem in the moist, dark folds of this reader’s brain. I’m looking forward to seeing the adaptation which is currently in development at Hulu.
Read an excerpt from the novel HERE.
Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Ray / Penguin Random House, June 2020
Categories: Book review