In 1950s Mexico, Noemí Taboada, a young, outspoken socialite, and her father receive an alarming letter from her distraught newly-wed cousin. She begs to be saved from the whispers, ghosts and fleshless things at High Palace, and claims that her husband, Virgil Doyle, is poisoning her. The letter reeks of insanity and Noemí heads immediately to the isolated old mansion in the Mexican countryside at her father's behest to check on her cousin's condition. It doesn't take long for Noemí to start feeling that maybe her cousin isn't insane, and that maybe something really isn't quite right about the Doyle's and High Place.
Firstly, how beautiful is that book cover? It's possibly the most beautiful book cover I've ever seen. I'm quite upset that I read this on my trusty old Kobo Mini, which is completely in black and white.
Immediately from the first chapter of this book, a gorgeously rich, Gothic atmosphere was set. All of the conventions of a Gothic classic are there: forbidden romance, a mysterious male figure, mental sickness, a damsel in distress, loss and grief, a distressing letter, the supernatural, a haunted, isolated mansion. It's all in there and I adored it.
Mexican Gothic is a 4.5 star read for me, the only thing that stopped me from giving it 5 stars was that, at times, I felt like the author was desperately trying to tell me ”hey, this book is Gothic by the way.” The typically Gothic word for red- “crimson”, was used 8 times (yes, I counted), and the Brontë sisters were mentioned too. Perhaps the thing that primarily drove me to give it 4.5 stars was the following line:
”….an old house atop a hill, with mist and moonlight, like an etching out of a Gothic novel.”
I felt that it was unnecessary to tell me that the house looked like it was "out of a Gothic novel" since the author is already excellent at Gothic description and showing me anyway, rather than telling me. These were the only weaknesses for me, I loved everything else about this book.
Although this is a Gothic novel with all of the typical tropes of the genre, this isn't your typical Gothic tale. There are also very real and human horrors depicted, it's a very culturally relevant book for today when we consider current affairs. The horrors of colonialism, race, eugenics and sexism are laced within the narrative. The Doyle's are an English family who moved to Mexico and literally brought everything English with them, even soil. As an English woman myself, I'm all too familiar with the delusional "English = superior" rhetoric. Yes, like a nasty stain left from colonialism, it still exists today.
Noemí is not your usual damsel in destress either, she's strong, independent and she stood her ground, questioning authority and the patriarchy at all times, and I really rooted for her. She contrasted well with her cousin, Catalina, who was your typical damsel in distress.
It was a slow burn, and while this may seem like a weakness to some, I actually thought the pacing was perfect because the author built up such a beautifully unnerving atmosphere. It started off typically Gothic and atmospheric for about 60% of the book, then took a very weird, dark, horror/science fiction-filled turn. I was taken aback in the best way possible.
Mexican Gothic is reminiscent of both Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca; a seemingly maniacal relative of the protagonist sends a distressing letter, a shot-gun wedding, the mysterious, foreign husband is suspected and the protagonist goes to investigate. There's even a Mrs Danvers, except in this book she's Florence Doyle. Both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are two of my favourite books of all time so, naturally, I really loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic. I think it's one of the best books I've read this year and it's very deserving of the "best horror" Goodreads Choice Award that it won this year.