Written by: Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
Reviewed by: Joe Bones
Genre: Horror / Historical Fiction
To quote Jack McBrayer’s character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “The way they mix the sexuality and the violence. I love it.” It’s because of this mixture that I love slasher films and am drawn to Gothic horror. An element of romance, usually scandalous, forbidden, or fated to be doomed, is a key component in classic Gothic literature. This is a detail often glossed over in modern interpretations as writers focus on the other two main elements of Gothic fiction, the setting/atmosphere and the supernatural. Admittedly these last two elements are essential for Gothic works, but a true modern Gothic story should, in my opinion, include nods to all three. In Mexican Gothic, author Sylvia Moreno-Garcia unites all three of these elements into a suspenseful horror novel that serves the genre proudly.
In the novel, Noemí receives a troubling letter from her cousin Catalina, who has recently married an Englishman named Virgil Doyle. Several months earlier, Catalina moved into High Place, a mansion on the Doyles’ estate. High Place represents the first key element of Gothic fiction, the setting. The estate is located in the misty, Mexican countryside and the mansion is dark, gloomy, and cold. Distressed by her cousin’s letter, Noemí travels to High Place to check on Catalina. During her stay, Noemí begins to experience the second key element, the supernatural. Catalina complains of hearing voices in the walls and Noemí begins to have strange dreams. The final key element, romance, comes in a couple different ways. Noemí feels a strange attraction towards Virgil and is naturally flirtatious toward his nephew Francis.
Once the characters have been introduced and the key story elements presented, the story’s pace increases greatly. The book is full of creepy moments of all stripes, some of which gave me very real goosebumps. What starts out as a familiar tale about a strange house soon transforms into a truly original horror story. Moreno-Garcia takes the outdated, racist beliefs of authors like Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft and flips them. Using some of the same themes as those authors, Moreno-Garcia puts together a nuanced feminist and subtly anti-racist new take on the idea of a haunted house. One of the ways she redefines Gothic fiction is by making the story’s hero a woman whose goal is to save another woman. Throughout the novel Moreno-Garcia uses Noemí to challenge the sexist and racist ideas of the era.
As much as I enjoyed Mexican Gothic, I just can’t bring myself to give the book a perfect score. It’s a great read but I just wasn’t blown away. At the end of the day though, it’s a solid horror novel and a perfect example of what modern writers of Gothic fiction should strive to achieve in their works. This is the second book I’ve read by Moreno-Garcia, and her strengths as a writer have done nothing but improve in recent years. She is most certainly an author avid readers should keep their eye on. For now, check out her newest novel, Mexican Gothic.