- What: Mexican Gothic
- Who: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Pages: 300 pages
- Genres: Horror and thriller
- Published: 2020
- The lit: of 5 flames
I’m a wuss. This isn’t news to anyone familiar with BLL. In 2019, I vowed to read more thrillers, but I only succeeded on some technicalities. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading thrillers or mysteries per se, but I have a feeling the nightmares they catalyze have something to do with the fact that I don’t gravitate toward the genres.
Ironically, I’ve read more thrillers and mysteries in the past six months than in the past few years combined. But bringing in “horror” elements takes it a bit too far. I notoriously refuse to watch any kind of horror flick because I know how I will react, and why would I intentionally scare myself? No no. I can read a thriller every now and then, but I stay far away from anything horrific.
That is unless you throw a critically and culturally acclaimed novel in my face.
Enter: Mexican Gothic, a book that is equal parts thriller and mystery with a whole lot of horror happening on top. If you know me, then you know this is not a typical read for Beth. However, I do like to challenge myself and try new things, and more importantly, I have to see for myself if a book lives up to the hype, and Mexican Gothic had a whole lot of hype. So I put on my big girl pants to read this terrifying book, which did indeed give me the heebie jeebies. You have been warned.
Noemí Taboada lives life according to her own terms … that is, until her traditional father disapproves. As a young woman in university in 1950s Mexico City, she loves flirting with boys, being the life of the party, and living freely. But a frantic note from her cousin, Catalina, who recently married a mysterious Englishman, puts all of her plans on hold, especially as Catalina begs to be saved from a doom in her new home. Noemí and her father, however, aren’t sure if there’s an actual problem or if Catalina’s mental state is waning.
Noemí may not initially seem like the type to swoop in and save the day, but don’t let her debutante and spoiled ways fool you. She’s bold, has an indomitable spirit, and has a whip-smart intuition about people. So she sets off to High Place, a grandiose and disintegrating home in the Mexican countryside where Catalina lives with her husband and his family, to get to the root of the problem and provide assistance to her ailing cousin.
Once she arrives, she quickly understands how easily Catalina could start to lose her mind — if that’s the problem at hand. Her in-laws are inhospitable and rude. Talking must be kept at a minimum and at a low volume. The family’s patriarch is greedy, xenophobic, and creepy as hell. And there’s a foreboding mist that constantly lingers over the home. Noemí realizes that rescuing Catalina will not be an easy task, especially when she herself starts having strange nightmares and visions.
She finds solace in the only friendly face at High Place: the youngest member of the family, Francis. He alludes to secrets within the family and the home but never gives anything away. It’s as if his family and their home have a grip on him that will soon take over Noemí as well. This leads her to realize she may never be able to escape High Place and its dark, dark secrets and that maybe Catalina was right after all.
Kirkus states it best: “Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.” Now, I never read Rebecca, so that’s one strike. And I really do mind a heaping dose of horror. That’s strike two. So why did I like Mexican Gothic so much? Maybe I just like to torture myself.
And torture did indeed occur — though in the best possible way when it comes to this genre. I can’t explain exactly why this novel freaked me out so much without actually giving away the secrets of High Place, and that, my readers, you must discover on your own. But I will tell you that I literally felt like I had something crawling over me or like something was crawling on the walls of my apartment for the last half of this book. Hence the heebie jeebies.
I realize that sounds nightmarish, which is why I stay away from horror to begin with, but that’s exactly what makes this book as good as it is. In the most twisted way, you want a visceral reaction. You want your senses to be heightened. I won’t go as far as to say you want nightmares, but you want that strong connection with the book, and that happens with Mexican Gothic.
That highlights the power of author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing, which arrests you as you read it. With her details — gory and gross and really grand — you feel like you’re in High Place and like you are Noemí; you experience this horror right along with her. And while the mystery starts off a bit slow (which is why I can’t rate it a full five flames), once you’re in the thick of it, you cannot escape it. What’s more is that the mysteries don’t fully reveal themselves fully until the last few pages, which means you get no reprieve from the horror until the very end.
I love when the climax of a book doesn’t happen until right before you close it, and you know I love when I feel like I’ve been dropped into the narrative because the details and the writing are so good. Combine those, and you’ve got yourself an excellent — albeit creepy — book, which confirms that Moreno-Garcia’s novel does live up to all the hype.
It’s worth noting that Moreno-Garcia doesn’t fully wrap up the book in the last chapter. The main mysteries reveal themselves, but there are still possibilities that the remaining characters haven’t yet uncovered. This makes you, as the reader, guessing and wanting more as you close the last page. I’m not saying Moreno-Garcia must write a sequel — just that my twisted mind would pick it up if she did.