Mexican Gothic is a New York Times Bestseller: It’s another Silvia Moreno classic! Despite my love for Silvia Moreno Garcia’s writing, I hesitated to read this novel despite adding it to my tbr every year since its publication.
But the open chapter convinced me to continue this story. Noemí’s father sends her to check in on her cousin after receiving a distressing letter from her. Catalina takes on an older sister role, so Noemí fights for both their lives. I have a similar relationship with my cousin, and I too would set a house on fire to save our lives.
Noemí receives a distressing letter from her cousin Catalina, so her father sends her to deep into a once thriving mining town that her cousin has made her home. But when Noemí arrives, nothing is what it appears. Now in a rotting house, atop a mountain, and with Catalina’s strange in-laws, Noemí has to fight to speak to her cousin. Catalina is not herself, and Noemí’s attempts to get her cousin psychiatric help go ignored.
The Doyles pride themselves on tradition and their origins going as far as to recreate England in the isolated mountains of Mexico, going as far as only speaking English, hiring English staff, and bringing English soil to the property. But after their mining business failed, the Doyle’s cling onto nothing but the past.
Just as Noemi begins to feel isolated, she forms a friendship with Francis, a timid but intelligent nephew of the house. But while conversation with Francis is easy, Noemí finds herself arguing with Catalina’s husband, Virgil, and the rest of the Doyle family. Additionally, Noemí’s has strange dreams, and now her cousin’s ramblings don’t seem so farfetched.
I am not a horror person. I grew up fearing all things spooky and scary, but at the same time, I was fascinated with ghosts, vampires, and witches. While I did overcome my fear of Halloween, I am not the biggest fan of horror. But because I loved Gods of Jade and Shadow so much, I decided to read it.
And now, two years later, I have.
Mexican Gothic is true to its name in the sense that it is a horror story that takes inspiration from the colonization of Mexico, as well as inspiration from modern-day colonialism. The book hinges on Noemí’s checking in on her cousin only to discover her in-laws are bizarre.
First is Howard Doyle, the father-in-law, who’s fascinated that Noemí and Catalina are cousins with contrasting skin tones and a huge fan of the Eugenics. It’s Howard’s idea that everyone in the Doyle residency speaks English despite the fact they live in a country dominated by the Spanish language.
Next is Florence Howard’s niece and Catalina’s caretaker, she’s set in her ways and dislikes Noemí’s independent and stubborn spirit. Florence vilifies Noemí because she does not conform to her idea of femininity. But she’s also very loyal to her family.
Then there are the servants who refuse to make conversation with Noemí, who is a social creature by nature. It also does not help that the Doyle’s refuse to speak at dinner or even to each other. Noemí recalls playing games with her family, chatting with them, and eating pan dulce with them, so the Doyle’s behavior is shocking.
Lastly there’s Virgil, who argues with Noemí but also tries to appease her. Virgil is handsome, but there’s something off about him.
And then Noemí discovers the Doyles have also married their family members in the past as a way to preserve their bloodlines. It’s all a reminiscence of the kingdoms and monarchs and colonialism.
But in the middle of this mystery, Noemí notices she’s lost her appetite, she’s having nightmares, and sleepwalking!
Noemí picks up on all of these red flags, but she has to ignore them because Catalina’s well-being hinges on Noemí playing by the Doyle’s rules.
I did not mention Francis Doyle, but he’s also strange. Francis is shy, soft-spoken, intelligent, and has a fascination for mushrooms. Appearance wise: he’s pale, blond, skinny, and tall. Noemí finds him ugly, yet she finds herself drawn to him and daydreams about kissing him. Which makes the climax of the novel even more distressing.
Besides incest and cannibalism, the Doyle family worships Howard Doyle because he has discovered how to make himself immortal. A ritual he stole from the people of Mexico and modified to suit his needs. Sound familiar? I recall a group of Spaniards slaughtering and infecting the Aztecs for their gold and then claiming to have discovered a new world.
But all of this makes Mexican Gothic a brilliant addition to the horror genre. The horror of this novel does not rely on ghosts or supernatural beings, on the contrary the horror is rooted in history of Mexico. But what’s even more interesting about Mexican Gothic is that not all readers will understand the true horror of this novel.
Before writing this post, I came across some reviews denouncing this novel for not including Mexican folklore and being too Eurocentric- babes that’s the whole point of this novel. In fact there were points in this story where I felt that Moreno-Garcia was spelling out some references to readers, yet some still didn’t understand it.
While I found it fascinating, it made me realize that to truly understand and enjoy this novel, one needs familiarity with the history of colonialism and its impact on the world.
Incidentally, this comment goes out to those of us who found it unique that the ending of this novel has Catalina and Noemí running down a mountain in white and covered in blood. Noemí and Francis are both in wedding attire! I don’t know about anyone else, but it gave me la Llorona vibes. Although Moreno Garcia could be referencing another legend I’m not familiar with: I’m positive that this was a reference to something.
There is romance in this novel. A hint of romance! But it’s there. Francis and Noemí give gothic romance energy. That said, Francis could have done more in this novel to help the two primas. While Francis gets some side eye from me, I loved the last paragraph of Mexican Gothic. It reminded me of how gutted I felt reading the ending of Gods of Jade and Shadow.
I loved Mexican Gothic, and I recommend it to everyone, even those of us who stay out of the horror genre. Although I must say once you read one of Silvia Moreno Garcia’s novels, you’re going to end up reading another one.
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