Mexican Gothic is not my usual cup of tea in the sense that I don’t usually read books that are overt horror novels. I was so caught up in the fact that Silvia Moreno-Garcia was releasing another book, that it took me a while to process that it was actually going to be scary. I impatiently waited to hear that my copy of the book had arrived, but when I actually had it in my hands I felt some apprehension, because I knew that I was going to be in for a spooky time!
That being said, this book was not hard to get through in the slightest. The premise of the novel is that Noemí, a woman born and raised in Mexican high society, must attempt to help her cousin Catalina after her sudden decline in health. The decline in health includes a raving letter that alleges some supernatural occurrences. Noemí travels to the house of Catalina’s new husband, and she realizes that her cousin’s outlandish claims are not as off-centre as they seem.
The writing is exquisite and the build-up is everything.
I’ve read some reviews that call it slow to start, but in my opinion these reviewers fail to acknowledge how brilliantly Moreno-Garcia builds tension throughout the rising action of the book. It is, after all, a horror novel, and a sign of a good horror novel is a story that doesn’t reveal all of its secrets right away. The tension should be drawn out. Seriously, the build-up of tension in this story is intense. It feels insidious. As a small example, the book features a creepy house called High Place, and the scariness of the house is so expounded that it will make you uncomfortable to reside within your own place of residence.
The details that Moreno-Garcia includes are fantastic (and of course, terrifying). From the description of the wallpaper and the furniture alone, I could see why someone would lose their mind in High Place.
This book is so smart.
It is constantly exploring its themes and motifs and circling back to them in creepy ways. Some of the images that are present in my mind after reading the book are golden mushrooms, the ouroboros, and old wedding dresses. DM me after you read the book and let’s chat about how all of these symbols relate to eugenics.
Noemí, the heroine, is utterly captivating.
She’s definitely the product of the fifties, and isn’t the type to fight with her fists. She’s been trained in the ways of Mexican high society, and as such, she is slow to show outward signs of aggression, but she knows how to charm her enemies, which is a powerful skill to have. She also has the interesting quality of knowing what she wants out of life, and doesn’t hesitate to use the men around her to get what she wants. As an example, she’s working to get her father to fund her graduate school degree. Noemí is also brave. After some initial thought, she doesn’t hesitate to attempt to rescue her cousin Catalina from the clutches of the man she married, and we’re here for it.
The scariest parts of the novel are scary because they are realities of life.
The real villain of this novel is patriarchal white men. Ghosts have nothing on them. The story shows that they can be a literal and metaphoric poison to the environment around them. They supported (and continue to support to this day) terrifying ideas about eugenics. In their mind, no one is equal to them, and there are no consequences to their actions. They attempt to take a bright soul like Noemí and remake her in their image and it’s terrifying. The book explores the fact that being a woman alone can be a scary prospect sometimes, and that men have a lot of power in their lives.
The only thing that I didn’t love in the book was the romance.
Not that I would even call the relationship a romance. It’s very easy to ignore and I think it’s up for debate. I always thought that the supposed love interest was a means to an end, not a romantic prospect. He was useful to Noemí, but not necessarily more than that. I didn’t hate him as a character. I just didn’t have the chance to contemplate how he and Noemí would actually fit together as a couple until it was too late.
This book changed the game. It’s amazing. I can’t say enough about it. I will not be reading it again anytime soon, because I need to get it out of my nightmares, but it was still great!
I highly recommend this book.