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Mexican Gothic


Mexican Gothic

In MEXICAN GOTHIC, Silvia Moreno-Garcia cuts to the quick of gothic horror, delivering a brilliant, page-turning romp that is as clever as it is chilling.

Noemí Taboada is a shrewd, smart, young socialite in Mexico City. Her inquisitive nature leads her to a life of vibrant parties mixed with academic pursuits, like anthropology. So when her father asks a strange favor of her in exchange for allowing her to enroll in a master’s program, she accepts. Her cousin, who recently married Englishman Virgil Doyle after a very brief engagement, has sent a troubling letter. In a distressed, uncharacteristic hand, Catalina claims that her new home is haunted and her husband is poisoning her. Virgil unequivocally dismisses her claims and dissuades Noemí’s father from inquiring further --- so he wants Noemí to visit, assess Catalina’s state and determine if she requires treatment.

And so Noemí ventures to High Place. The house, once a grand Victorian estate planted in the Mexican countryside, has fallen into more than disrepair. It’s rotting from the core. Mold spores creep up the silver gilt and oil portraits of the Doyle lineage. The entire house feels dank and tired, and the windows don’t open. The landscape outside is shrouded in perpetual mist and edged in vicious ravines.

"Thoroughly satisfying on every page and brimming with eerie, encroaching menace, MEXICAN GOTHIC is a pitch-perfect masterpiece."

Virgil and his family once had money from the silver mines they ran before a sickness took most of the Mexican miners. He knows very well that Catalina has money of her own. He’s as handsome as a statue, and just as cold. His cousin, Francis, is not so handsome --- and as weak-willed as Virgil is strong --- but is obviously enamored of Noemí. His mother, Florence, lays out strange, stringent and prohibitive rules for Noemí’s visit.

Virgil’s father, Howard Doyle, is the patriarch of the estate. He’s ancient, and his family and the hired help revolve around him and his needs. From the moment he meets Noemí, he’s unabashedly racist. He comments on how much darker she is than Catalina and launches into diatribes on overt eugenics. When a disgusted Noemí pushes back, Howard seems amused rather than abashed, spurred on by her resistance.

Catalina’s terror is even more palpable in person. But as Noemí tries to get to the bottom of her cousin’s disturbance, she begins to succumb to a similar haunting herself --- worsened by Virgil’s reassurances that she and Catalina are safe. As Noemí delves deeper into the mysteries shrouding High Place and the Doyles, she finds herself ensnared in a danger more sick and terrible than she could have imagined.

Moreno-Garcia delivers on every promise she makes with MEXICAN GOTHIC. She masterfully executes tropes of the genre while reinvigorating every single one, and Noemí makes for a deeply gratifying protagonist through it all. The book gets at the true terror of the world and positions a brilliant, passionate and impulsive heroine to fight it at its very core. The eldritch villain is the horrific reality of white supremacy and the monstrosity of insecure, self-righteous masculinity. Moreno-Garcia lays bare its willful, selfish violence, how it’s inextricable from western imperialism and rape culture, and as widely accepted, inescapable and built to thrive within our system of governance as law itself.

MEXICAN GOTHIC is a dark, seductive fairy tale --- magical, haunted and subversive on every level. Noemí is a savvy knight, Catalina is no damsel, and the castle is knowingly built on brown bodies, while the prince at the end has always been the hideous, ravening dragon and evil queen all at once.

Moreno-Garcia is in conversation with Lovecraft here, rather than simply channeling him, and she reveals his intrinsic racist, white supremacist themes for the horror that they are. There’s also resonance of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the wondrous, strange fruiting bodies of Jeff VanderMeer, all blended with a Victorian ghost story. Moreno-Garcia’s writing is stylish and immersive, deftly evoking an atmosphere of glamour gone to rot, of the screaming toxicity of masculinity couched in quiet, familiar propriety.

The book is truly terrifying, but even though it emphasizes that racist, imperialist evil has always been cyclical, it is still beautifully hopeful. It never loses sight of how brown women can save themselves and each other, even as it indicts how evil this system is that puts them in threatened positions.

Thoroughly satisfying on every page and brimming with eerie, encroaching menace, MEXICAN GOTHIC is a pitch-perfect masterpiece.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on July 2, 2020

Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • Publication Date: June 15, 2021
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Gothic, Horror
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • ISBN-10: 052562080X
  • ISBN-13: 9780525620808