Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Ray Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel, Mexican Gothic is one feminist horror story you will not want to miss. The reader invests immediately in the heroine of the novel, Noemí. She is a 22-year-old socialite who enjoys her lavish life in Mexico City. Beautiful, well-dressed, and quick-witted, Noemi dreams of becoming an anthropologist. Her parents don’t agree with her lifestyle and wish instead she would focus on settling down and finding a husband, or as se sees it: “…she should never have any fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband” (6).
However, her father promises to let her attend university and follow her dreams if she visits her cousin, Catalina, who has sent a disturbing letter stating she is being slowly poisoned by her husband, Virgil Doyle, and is seeing strange visions.
Noemí agrees and takes the next train to High Place, the Doyle’s English estate located in the Mexican countryside. Francis, Virgil’s first cousin, is there to drive Noemí to the house, as it’s set far from town on a dangerous, windy road. When they finally arrive, Noemí can sense that something is off.
Moreno-Garcia’s Gothic visceral descriptions of characters and location help build tension in the story. The reader cannot help but wonder what is really going on behind closed doors. The first night, Noemí meets the rest of the Doyle family. Francis’s mother, Florence, is unfriendly and strict, informing Noemí that the most important rule of the house is to be quiet. Mr. Howard Doyle, Virgil’s father and the decrepit owner of the mansion, is a fan of eugenics and every conversation with him leaves Noemí feeling uncomfortable. And finally, there’s Virgil, Catalina’s husband, who is cold and aloof but handsome.
The Doyles try to keep Noemí away from Catalina despite her long travels to High Place to visit her in the first place. However, when they are finally given a moment alone together, Catalina asks Noemí to travel into town to pick up a special medicine from a healer. It is then that Noemí learns the dark history of the estate and starts to really question the family and their true intentions.
It is after too many nights at High Place that Noemí starts sleepwalking and having vivid nightmares. She sees visions of a golden, glowing woman in the fungi and mold of the estate. The mysterious woman in the moldy wallpaper may remind readers of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Similarities between the two stories are apparent as the females in the novel are trapped within the confinements of the physical location. When they reach out for help, they are seen as hysterical or idiotic. Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job of creating a protagonist who actively fights against the stereotypical roles of women while still being feminine.
Noemi’s quick wit and intelligence is obvious during the painfully awkward conversations she has with the eldest Doyle and master of the house, Howard. During almost every appearance in the novel, he manages to bring up the topics of eugenics and race. These conversations lead the reader to believe that the Doyles’ long history of colonialism is as ever-present as the fungi that grow wildly in the house. As the tension builds, it’s clear there is nothing Noemi should do but run.
There’s nothing to do but wait in anticipation and horror while Moreno-Garcia gives gothic literature the feminist ending we all need. Readers will be finding themselves lost and perfectly content inside the beautifully crafted horror of Mexican Gothic.