Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“A masterpiece of modern gothic storytelling, complete with a captivating storyline driven by a strong cast and brooding atmosphere, Mexican Gothic deserves all the plaudits it has received, and then some.”

 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - coverHer name certainly won’t be new to horror fans. But Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s star has been on the rise over the past couple of years, with 2019 seeing the release of Gods of Jade and Shadow (Del Rey, 2019), nominated for too many awards to mention here and featuring on many “best of” lists of the year. Earlier this year she released her first thriller, Untamed Shore (Agora Books, 2020) to great praise from outlets such as Library Journal, Booklist and LA Review of Books. The anticipation for Mexican Gothic has been such that social media has been swamped with images of the wonderful cover and blurbs from authors such as Victor LaValle, Charlie Jane Anders, Sarah Gailey, and many others.

After her father receives a disturbing letter from her cousin, Noemí Taboada is dispatched to the remote Mexican town of El Triunfo to assess the situation between Catalina and her new husband, Virgil, and Catalina’s mental state. Noemí is instantly a fish out of water, plucked from her comfortable socialite lifestyle, where she is expected to “devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting” and plunged into a strange place full of strange people. High Place, the family home of the Virgil and his extended English family, is perched on a hillside removed from the rest of the town, enveloped by an almost constant sea of dense fog. Noemí notes at once that the dirty and drab home looks like something from Victorian England, which is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this eccentric family.

Patriarch, Howard Doyle, is very old and very ill, spending most of his time confined to his room and cared for by the mistress of the house, his niece and Virgil’s sister, Florence. Francis, Florence’s son, rounds out the Doyle family, and is the one member of the family who Noemí warms to, as he is the only one who does not treat her visit with suspicion and hostility. The first meal to “welcome” Noemí to High Place doesn’t go at all well, with Howard keen to press his guest on Eugenics and the hierarchy of their races. It makes for an uncomfortable read, to hear such terrible ideologies, but it perfectly reflects the character of the old man, and possibly the rest of the Doyle clan.

But Noemí isn’t so easily intimidated, as she continues to oppose the oppressive atmosphere of the strange place. She continually disregards Florence’s admonitions about wandering the grounds on her own, or travelling to El Triunfo to seek medical advice other than that offered by the family doctor, or even smoking in her room. She is fiercely loyal to her cousin and wants nothing more than to discover the nature of her illness and return her to full health, even if it means getting her away from the increasingly manipulative hands of her new husband. Noemí isn’t immune to the charms of the attractive Virgil, but she knows there is something more, something worse, beneath the polished veneer he presents to the world.

Within the suffocating setting, and seemingly hounded by the sinister Virgil and Florence, Noemí is soon also haunted by terrible dreams and begins to wonder if she too is succumbing to the same illness afflicting Catalina. As the story accelerates towards its horrific conclusion, our fiery, no-nonsense heroine’s mettle will be tested by the very human evils of racism, misogyny and the outdated notion of patriarchy. But she will also face a very unhuman evil that will make sense of much of the strange occurrences she has been exposed to thanks to the eerily gothic home and its eerily gothic inhabitants. There are passages of this book where the reader will have to remind themselves to take a breath lest they pass out, left breathless by the overpowering sense of dread.

Moreno-Garcia should be commended for combining the horrors faced by many women in real life with the unique and monstrous horror (hopefully) only thought of in her imagination to bring a truly terrifying and tense story to life. The characters are also well done, the villainy of the antagonists equal parts delightful and gruesome (not that they are delightful, just that they are perfect for their roles). And, in Noemí Taboada, Moreno-Garcia has gifted us one of the most endearing and forceful heroines of recent horror fiction. A masterpiece of modern gothic storytelling, complete with a captivating storyline driven by a strong cast and brooding atmosphere, Mexican Gothic deserves all the plaudits it has received, and then some.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Del Rey
eBook: 320 (pps.)
Release Date: 30 June 2020

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