“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an own-voices Latinx Gothic horror book about a young woman named Noemí in the 1950s who ends up travelling to the Mexican countryside after receiving a frenzied letter from her cousin, Catalina, who has been newly wedded into an English family. The fashionable young debutante packs her things and leaves at once. Upon arriving to High Place, the Doyle family’s shadowy estate, Noemí’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts working to uncover the family’s darkest secrets, hoping to save her cousin before the doom and bloom of the house can overwhelm them all.
Gothic horror is a much-underappreciated category of fiction, so to witness a culturally rich Latinx addition to the genre was absolutely thrilling. Mexican Gothic not only lived up to every expectation that I had, but it also surpassed them by a marvellous margin. Ms Moreno-Garcia has crafted a tale that is positively sublime in its execution and a spectacular addition to the genre.
The novel has every ingredient needed for a perfect Gothic horror tale. It is outstandingly atmospheric with an insidiously slow-rise of tension and terror. The romanticism is mesmerisingly interwoven with the discomforting and oft-times jaw-dropping elements of death and mayhem. Then there is the large, age-old house that seems to have its very own spirit, screaming out in anguish. There was not a single part of Mexican Gothic that I did not devour with eager anticipation.
The best part of the story is how the author threads facets of terror with the abhorrence of Western colonialism of a foreign land. The self-righteous nature of white supremacy paves a foundation for said racial entitlement via the grotesque act of eugenics, racism, and even colourism. Together this toxic brew slowly usurps the rich Latinx culture and the lands that belonged to the Mexican people. As Noemí uncovers the history of what happened in the establishment of High Place, all I could feel was disgust, outrage, and sorrow, especially when one considers how similar events are still happening across the globe in the present era.
The tale takes its time in depicting the manipulation that the Mexican people fall victim to, causing them to experience mass dementia and hysteria via a plague-like assault. It is breathtakingly dark and discomforting, taking some of my favourite tropes of the genre and giving them a magnificently original twist.
When we take a step back and look at the Doyle family, the owners of High Place, a sense of mixed feelings start to arise. Every single person with the exception of one young man are utterly unlikable and monstrously disturbing. It captures the reader in a bubble of claustrophobic solitude as we watch Noemí trying to unravel the secrets hidden away in High Place. In many ways, Noemí’s struggles reminded me of Crimson Peak, another Gothic tale made by a Latinx creator. No matter how much we want to believe she has found a resolution or even a potential ally, what she has really found is more questions and ghastly truths to turn the stomach.
“The house had metamorphosed in the dream, but it was not a thing of meat and sinew on this occasion. She walked upon a carpet of moss, the flowers and vines crept up the walls, and long, thin stacks of mushrooms glowed a pale yellow, lightening up the ceiling and floor. It was as if the forest had tiptoed into the house in the middle of the night and left a part of itself inside.”
I never expected to be as surprised by the twists with such intensity. There was a moment where my jaw fell completely open because I most decidedly did not anticipate what was to come. To be shocked so thoroughly was wonderfully exhilarating. It was wickedly disturbing and another perfect complement to the Gothic horror genre.
If there is anything that I feel readers shall find fault with, it is the pacing. The book takes a gradual tempo with its progressions, carefully unwrapping each titbit of a twist in a methodical way. However, that is the beauty and core essence of Gothic horror. It is made for slow-burn, spine-tingling storytelling experiences in order to create the most cerebral and uneasy journey possible. The genre is made to push us outside of our limits of safe and comfort thinking and the best way to accomplish that is via a subtle and sinister narrative delivery. While I respect that it may not be everyone’s cup of chai, I only ask that readers keep that in mind when going into any work of Gothic horror, not just Mexican Gothic.
All in all, Mexican Gothic was a remarkably chilling, eerie, and devious novel that I am so happy I picked up. Noemí is a tenacious, feisty, intelligent, and strong-minded woman whose determination and love of family makes it impossible not to root for her, particularly when the forces of nature seem just as driven to smother that spirit out of her. Between her, the outstanding ambiance and environment of High Place, the commentary on the gradual cultural murder that comes with colonialism, and that bombshell of a plot twist, Mexican Gothic should not be missed by fans of horror fiction and people who enjoy a circumspect creepy mystery.
Publication Date: June 2020
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Latinx Literature, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
Content Warnings: Body horror. Eugenics. Racism. Colourism. Sexual Assault. Gaslighting. Mention of suicide. Miscarriage. Death of a baby. Cannibalism. Gore. Mass Death. Incest.
GoodReads: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia