Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publication date: June 30, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Horror
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Sometimes it requires a bit of effort to tease out a book’s theme or premise based on the title. That’s not the case in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Mexican Gothic. It is exactly that, a noir horror novel set in 1950s Mexico. Noemi is the pampered daughter of a wealthy family whose her father asks her to go to a remote town to visit her newly married cousin, Catalina. He’s concerned because he’s received a letter from her that is wild in its ramblings and pleas for help. An orphan now, Catalina is an heiress and he doesn’t trust her husband, Virgil. And so it begins…
Noemi dutifully heads to Virgil’s family estate, where they’ve owned silver mines for generations. Inactive mines in desperate need of a cash infusion. The train only goes through the nearby town once a week and the house is hours from the town. Isolation. When she arrives, the people she meets are subdued, dreary and Noemi can’t see Catalina when she wants. Instead, there are silent dinners with Virgil’s cousin and his aunt. His father is too old and ill to join them. The house itself is dark, outdated, and dingy, with odd flocked wallpaper that sometimes seems to glow.
You’re getting the gist, right? The good news is that Moreno-Garcia knows how to create ambience. Mexican Gothic is ripe with a Rosemary’s Baby feel of strange danger and ill will. It’s got all the ingredients of the classic gothic novel: isolation, bad weather, a curious outsider, old family, gaslighting, lost wealth, dangerous beliefs, and, ultimately some fairly grotesque supernatural occurrences that ramp up as the novel progresses.
I don’t read a lot of the genre so there may be aspects of Mexican Gothic that fall short for gothic purists. The novel’s elements, even as the melodrama increased, played well into the ominous atmosphere. I appreciated that the flighty Noemi had a bit of the scientist in her as she tries to decipher what may be going on around her. It made for a nice juxtaposition against descriptions of her cocktail dresses and gloves. For me (even as I wondered at times why I was reading a horror novel when my brain is already overstuffed with dread) Mexican Gothic was creepy, but satisfying reading.
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