Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Mexican Gothic is set in 1950 Mexico. Noemi is an educated socialite from Mexico City who loves parties, dresses, and leading men on. Although she wants a master’s in anthropology, she’s changed her field of study many times, and her father would rather this twenty-two-year-old young woman marry into a good family with money than go to school again. However, when a weird note from Noemi’s cousin Catalina arrives, the father strikes a deal: find out what’s going on with Catalina, who married a man from the prestigious Doyle family that’s gone broke — and after barely knowing him — and he’ll let Noemi go to grad school. Yet, the note felt too much like My Cousin Rachel, another Gothic novel.
Noemi arrives in a small village on the side of a mountain to be chauffeured by Francis Doyle, a man about her age who looks pallid and not cute. The helpful driver bit reminded me too much of The Turn of the Key. The Doyles are from England, having moved to Mexico years ago to open a silver mine. That’s where they got their wealth, but a massive flood wiped the mine out, and they’ve been clinging on ever since, keeping only their derelict mansion. Does Catalina’s husband just want her for money? Does Catalina’s odd note suggest she need a psychiatrist? Francis Doyle is the only one in the family who speaks Spanish. The rest are so racist and xenophobic that they not only brought their own servants and doctor from England, they shipped in British dirt for their garden. Noemi is not a welcome guest, and her intense nightmares that begin while staying with the Doyles are nearly cause for her to leave. The family tells her Catalina has tuberculosis, but that doesn’t explain the young woman’s mental state. Mexican Gothic is a buddy read I did with Emily @ Literary Elephant.
Here’s your fair warning that the first 150 pages of Mexican Gothic are tedious, boring, almost illogical, and I kept thinking how other authors did these plot points better. Noemi sounds like every flighty rich girl ever. The Doyles barely speak, so they seem like cardboard jerks. Told repeatedly she can’t visit Catalina for more than a couple of minutes, Noemi spends weeks just trying to fill her time. Why is she there? Why isn’t she demanding to see her cousin? She’s not told she can’t see Catalina because TB is highly contagious, but because Catalina is apparently always resting.
On top of that, the house is incredibly damp and full of mold you can see growing on the walls. How is that a reasonable place for a person with a lung disease, let alone any healthy human? The last time I did a buddy read with Emily, I gave up. I couldn’t do that to her again! I grumpily pushed on, rolling my eyes every time some man grabbed Noemi by the arm (my massive, enormous pet peeve and I don’t care if I’m reading historical fiction), or the patriarch, Howard, would talk about eugenics and inferior people, and how dark Noemi is. Major ew. Weirdly, the Doyles are in Mexico but nothing feels terribly Mexican or English — not the food, the diction, nothing. If the story contains a xenophobic family in Mexico, shouldn’t their cultural differences stand out?
But then, right about page 150, everything happened. Vivid dream sequences to give you nightmares, horrifying behavior from Catalina’s husband, Noemi maybe accidentally poisoning her cousin, Francis suggesting Noemi leave despite his obvious love for her, and so many mentions of mushrooms that I was getting serious We Have Always Lived in the Castle vibes.
I read and read and read furiously, covering the last 170 pages in a single evening. Moreno-Garcia teases out possible sexual violence enough to make you feel disgusting at the right level for a horror novel. I wasn’t sure who to trust because I’ve definitely seen Get Out, I was positive someone readers would think dead would pop up one more time for a last scare like in Scream, and the point I’m trying to make is this book will tap into everything you know about horror movies. I don’t want to do any spoilers, but I felt like Mexican Gothic could be a cousin of Horrorstör in terms of weirdness, which was great for me because I’m tired of the same worn horror plots.
Dear reader, I hate to ask you to push through 150 pages of what feels like a poorly written YA novel, but I do think it’s worth it for the rest of the book.