Mexican Gothic: Book Review
A fever dream into the unknown
Mexican Gothic centers around the story of Noemí Taboada, a young, free-spirited socialite in 1950’s Mexico. One day, a frantic letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina. Upon first glance, she does not appear to be mentally well. Concerned, Noemí’s father gets in contact with her husband, an Englishman named Virgil Doyle. The two go back and forth with one another until Virgil extends an invitation for Noemí to visit Catalina at the Doyle family home.
Situated high up in the mountaintops in the countryside, the Doyle mansion, called High Place, is a drastic change from the city life Noemí is accustomed to. Noemí soon finds herself in an unfamiliar world full of strict rules and stranger inhabitants. Once she is introduced to the other household guests, it becomes apparent that something is amiss.
Virgil’s father, Howard Doyle, develops an uncomfortable fascination towards Noemí, and she can’t help but find Virgil both unsettling and oddly intriguing. Meanwhile, her cousin seems to be hovering between a dream state and a haunted reality. Eventually, Noemi starts having unnerving dreams that she can’t quite explain, but she is determined to get to the bottom of her cousin’s recent disturbance and won’t be so easily deterred.
Mexican Gothic is a visceral experience filled with imagery that will make you cringe, gasp, and keep reading in morbid fascination.
In true gothic horror fashion, there is an air of mystery and doom throughout the novel. While the story progresses, we also get an increasing sense of isolation and unease. At times, there is even a sense of claustrophobia. Once Noemí enters High Place, she is rarely, if ever allowed to leave.
While the story is told entirely from Noemí’s point of view, there is never a dull moment. The book's vivid and fantastical imagery helps bring the story to life and creates more intrigue and anticipation throughout. Silvia Moreno-Garcia knows how to pull the audience into Noemí’s world. Mexican Gothic is a visceral experience filled with imagery that will make you cringe, gasp, and keep reading in morbid fascination.
Despite its morbidity, Noemí is a rather cheerful and delightful character. She is well-rounded and is a leading lady who will charm you with her vigor and spitfire persona. She is a breath of fresh air in the gloom.
I found the other characters also interesting, but still lacking some sustenance. It is because of Noemí’s vibrancy, however, that helps create a nice contrast between the drab environment and characters that surround her. I especially enjoyed the contrast between her and Francis, the youngest member of the Doyle family. Although a few years older than her, he lacks social skills and it’s obvious Noemí’s presence makes him nervous. They are night and day.
Noemí represents life and vitality while her environment represents decay. There are many dark secrets that lurk within High Place, so one might argue that it makes sense that we as the audience never entirely get to know the other characters like we wish we could. There is always some barrier between her and the other characters because they keep her at a distance.
The book maintains a slow and steady pace and keeps you in a trance until it gradually starts building up towards the end. In a way, this book was also like experiencing a fever dream. There were parts that I felt needed more substance or perhaps, a longer or shorter time to play out. Either way, it was as if I was right there alongside Noemí experiencing what she was feeling and bearing witness to the horrors throughout her time at High Place.
Throughout the novel, Noemí must keep her wits about her. She starts off as a socialite concerned about her appearance with a flimsy grasp on reality, but her experience at High Place will help her become more grounded and finally take action on the things that truly matter. In the end, she is a young woman trying to prove herself and do the right thing. She will not allow herself to be a damsel in distress.
I don’t typically read gothic horror, but this book did remind me of older horror novels I’ve read like Dracula and Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe stories. It’s that sense of unease and grotesque imagery, and that mad descent into the unknown. And the house. It’s always the house.
I finished this book last month and have not been able to stop thinking about it since. I figured it was time to finally gather my thoughts and write a proper review. I give this book four out of five stars.
Mexican Gothic is currently in talks to be adapted into a Hulu series.