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I picked this one up sooner than expected thanks to Overdue covering it in their podcast. If you haven’t listened to Andrew and Craig talk books, I highly recommend you begin. Their coverage of Mexican Gothic is fantastic!
Noemí Taboada is a flirtacious socialite in Mexico City who only wants to continue her education and study anthropology. But her father wants her to settle down with an appropriate young man. When they receive an unsettling letter from her cousin Catalina, whom they hadn’t heard from since her marriage, her father strikes a deal with her. If Noemí investigates her cousin’s situation and brings her where she needs to be, he will let her continue her studies. She accepts the challenge, but the situation turns out much more sinister than she imagined.
The Plot of Mexican Gothic
Noemí arrives at High Place, the creepy mansion where her ailing cousin Catalina resides with her family by marriage. The Doyles are a haunting bunch, like living ghosts gliding through the old house. Catalina’s husband, Virgil, insists his wife is suffering from tuberculosis and doesn’t need a psychiatrist. But Noemí is stubborn and won’t leave until she finds out the truth.
However, the darkness she experiences while staying at High Place turns out to have deeper roots than she thought. Catalina’s rantings in her letter were not the ravings of a woman gone mad, but rather a woman held prisoner by a family’s secret.
Throughout the story, Moreno-Garcia builds the fictional horror in such a subtle way you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. But the Doyle patriarch’s obsessive exoticizing of Noemí puts the real horror upfront and center: white supremacy. Moreno-Garcia flips the script so that the Lovecraftian horror takes root the way racism and colonialism do in real life – quietly and behind the scenes.
Noemí works great as a protagonist. Glimpsing into her thought processes throughout the book, you come to find a smart and resourceful heroine. Interestingly enough, this intellect also leaves her vulnerable in the face of the impossible. While she often handles the real evil of the Doyles deftly, the supernatural evil of the house is harder to fight, especially for someone who starts out as a skeptic.
She finds an ally in Francis, the only one of the Doyles who shows a shred of decency. And the first man that has managed to garner Noemí’s genuine affection. His family often derides him, shunning him for his softness. But as sweet and kind as Francis is, he’s also been poisoned by the paranormal evil of the house. It’s a fascinating development that shows how those growing up in a toxic environment will always be a product of it, no matter how compassionate they may be. It takes courage and work to break free from that poison.
Mexican Gothic Rating
5 out of 5 stars hands down. Moreno-Garcia created an unsettling atmosphere by intertwining real-life horrors with the supernatural kind. Every moment reading this novel, I found myself crawling in my skin.
You can find a copy of the book here.