I was introduced to Silvia Moreno-Garcia through her 2019 novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow. I loved that book, and was thrilled to learn of her upcoming 2020 books, Untamed Shore and Mexican Gothic. The former came out in February, and now Mexican Gothic is available and already charting high on bestseller lists.
My Book of the Month edition of Mexican Gothic just arrived a few days ago, and I couldn’t wait a single day longer. I raced through the atmospheric horror novel and loved every second of it.
In 1950, less than a year after her cousin married a man she barely knew, Noemí Taboada discovers that her cousin – Catalina – is sick and possibly in need of psychiatric care. But her husband’s family, the Doyles, don’t seem to be doing enough to treat Catalina. Noemí travels to their home in the mountains of Hidalgo to assess Catalina’s situation and convince the Doyles to provide better care.
Noemí ends up in High Place, a huge but run-down mansion that looks more English than Mexican. Indeed, the Doyle family emigrated there from England in the late 1800s, and never really assimilated to Mexican culture. They’re also not especially warm or charming. Noemí is instantly put off by most of them, but the youngest of the family – Francis – proves to be kinder and more helpful.
Noemí works to help Catalina, who seems to suffer from hallucinations and mood swings. But as Noemí starts to uncover the Doyles’ dark history, she begins to develop similar symptoms to what her cousin is experiencing. It starts with strange and horrifying dreams that feel all too real despite the impossibility of them. Then, when she starts hallucinating, Noemí knows she must get out. But how can she save Catalina? What if she herself is already trapped too?
From the very first time I saw the cover of Mexican Gothic, I knew it was a book I had to read. Not only is the title simple yet evocative, the artwork is also striking. Luckily, this is a book that you can judge from its title and cover – it’s amazing inside and out.
Mexican Gothic is, naturally, a Gothic novel. Early on, characters reference Gothic classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Those are two of my favorite novels, and they’re a great comparison point for this new story.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia does an excellent job of building up an atmosphere. Her visual depictions really make the book, painting beautifully chilling settings ideal for horror. In each scene, readers can see the secluded, decaying old mansion, standing tall within its shroud of thick fog. We can envision the moldy, faded wallpaper, the musty furniture that was once stylish and expensive, the shadowy rooms lit by outdated oil lamps. We can feel the damp, cold air in the bedrooms, the mist in the overgrown cemetery, the singular dread of being in such a desolate place.
Moreover, Mexican Gothic is a dreamy novel. Many nights, Noemí falls into disturbing dreams in which mold oozes off the walls and ghostly figures sneak into her room. These hazy dreams start to feel too real, just as later hallucinations start to invade reality. Noemí is living in a waking nightmare, and it starts to feel like an abyss of horrid memories, night terrors, and deviant desires. If the isolated setting is darkly atmospheric, the nightmarish events take that atmosphere to an even higher level.
I love how Mexican Gothic slowly reels you in, a creeping vine slowly taking hold. Things start off normal enough, following a young socialite from Mexico City into Hidalgo’s mountains. The home and family are creepy, but nothing a strong young woman can’t handle. But as Noemí slowly starts to uncover unsettling details in the Doyles’ past, and as she begins falling into the same madness afflicting Catalina, the pace starts to pick up. The big reveal 2/3 of the way through is shocking and horrific, weaving in dark magic and science-based subversion. The final pages of the novel move at breakneck speed as Noemí desperately tries to evade lifelong doom.
Throughout the novel, each of the characters is vivid and unique in both appearance and personality. Noemí, in particular, is a great lead. She’s not the most typical of heroines; while she’s clever and determined, she’s also flippant, vain, and preoccupied with fashion. This sets her apart from other novels and makes her a refreshingly vibrant element in this often disturbing and bleak world.
Mexican Gothic is a majestic and provocative novel, and if you’re a fan of horror, it’s a must-read. It’s richly atmospheric, nightmarish, and terrifying, set against themes of post-colonialism and eugenics. It was among my most highly anticipated novels of the year, and it more than lived up to the hype.
Read Mexican Gothic, and be sure to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other novels, too.
Read more about the real city this book was based on, learn about the history and transformation of Gothic novels, find discussion questions, see the Doyle family seal, and get a paper doll set for Noemí in the official book club kit here.
(Speaking of the Doyle family seal… it reminded me of Riley Sager’s thrilling 2019 novel, Lock Every Door. Very different premise with one small, serpentine link.)
You can also get a look at the real English cemetery in Real del Monte that inspired the cemetery at High Place in the photo stream here.
And if you like some music to set the mood, Silvia Moreno-Garcia curated a playlist of music that captures the terrifying yet seductive atmosphere of High Place. Enjoy!