by Kristen B.
Horrifyingly creepy. Creepily horrifying. Either way, it’s gothic. The author tells you right there in the title. I’m not a big fan of horror – gothic or otherwise. You can keep your atmospheric creepies to yourself.
This book absorbed me. I literally could not put it down.
Noemi Taboada is my kind of girl: smart and sassy. She’s contemplating an advanced degree in anthropology, if only she can convince her father that there’s more to a well-off woman’s life than marriage and family. In Mexico in the 1950s, this is a harder sell than it should be. She’s also something of a party girl, who enjoys dancing and smoking with her active social circle.
Her cousin Catalina, though, is cut from more traditional cloth. She is married and has moved to her new husband’s remote estate, away from the family in Mexico City. When the family receives troubling letters from and about Catalina, Noemi agrees to her father’s plan to visit her cousin and investigate the situation.
Catalina has married Virgil Doyle, oldest son of a family that immigrated to Mexico generations ago but have maintained an English sensibility, including not speaking Spanish. They came for the silver mines and stayed for reasons that become clear later. The house (in all honestly, a sinister mansion) is dark – literally with drapes pulled and limited electricity – decorated with overwrought furnishings in a variety of mythological motifs and loaded with tarnished silver. Gothic oozes out of the story’s rotting wainscoting.
Noemi is not a particularly welcome visitor. She smokes. She asks questions. She’s not particularly interested in being obedient to the Doyles’ odd rules. She wants to see her cousin. She visits town. She roams the family’s cemetery where she befriends younger cousin Francis, who helps her understand that not all is right or well at High Place – and not just because the family’s fortunes are dwindling with the mines being closed.
Francis has a fascination with fungus. Mushrooms are his main interest, and I don’t want to spoil too much – but it’s relevant. He also seems to spend plenty of time outdoors to get away from his overbearing family: Virgil who reeks of ambition and charisma but codes as emotionally abusive, and Florence, the strict maiden aunt who is the enforcer for Howard, the ailing patriarch with a keen interest in eugenics. Honestly, I’d spend as much time outside as I could, too.
Noemi’s questions reveal that the Doyle family has all sorts of secrets and scandals, including murder and incest. Things start to fall into place just as Noemi begins to demonstrate the same sort of worrisome symptoms as her cousin Catalina. Noemi’s vivid dream sequences contribute to the sense of impending doom and overall wrongness. When Howard and Florence forcibly insist that Noemi marry Francis, it all comes apart at the seams and a nightmare of truly gothic proportions ensues. The author fully embraces Latin magical realism as she dives into the deep end of the horror genre.
You should read it, preferably on a dank, rainy day in a spider-infested garret. Personally, I am glad I read it on a hot, summer day next to a window while traveling on a train. Mexican Gothic is available in print, ebook, and eaudiobook.
Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).