Having read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, I was expecting another genre-bending experience when I read Mexican Gothic. But that is not how this story goes. The book reads like the well-loved gothic tales of old, and it will absolutely delight fans of this particular genre. This is not a bad thing whatsoever, I only want to admit that my reading experience was off-kilter because I was expecting a totally different story. Because of this, I found myself swirling in the slow, formulaic plot. But don’t let my misfortune bring you down. Gothic-literature stans rejoice, don your most billowing dress, and prepare for the dramatics because I have the perfect book for you.
Noemí Taboada is a socialite living a fun, fast life in Mexico City. She attends parties, flirts with men, and pushes the limits of her father’s patience. Her carefree lifestyle comes to a halt when she receives an odd letter from a cousin who had quickly married an Englishman and moved to the Mexican countryside. Concerned for the cousin’s wellbeing, Noemí’s father tasks her with visiting the cousin’s new home at the isolated High Place manor to get to the bottom of the strange situation. Noemí arrives at a decrepit house filled with strange inhabitants. She plans to get answers but ends up with terrifying questions as her cousin’s new family brings their dark secrets to the light.
When I say gothic tropes were transplanted to Mexico, I literally mean that a storybook manor with all its textbook characters was picked up from the fog-laced hills of the English countryside and placed in Mexico. The traditional manor is foreboding, its occupants are shifty, and the same dreary weather clouds the landscape to obscure a cemetery. The traditional elements of this genre were all present, but Moreno-Garcia also uses the setting in Mexico to layer on even more terrifying themes. The native people are exploited by the foreign English family in horrifying ways. The family is also very interested in Noemí’s heritage, but I can’t go into much detail because…spoilers. There were several moments I forgot the story took place in Mexico because we’re trapped in that dreary English manor most of the time. I would have loved to see more of the Mexican culture but that would have been a different story entirely.
I anticipated that a gothic-inspired story would produce a meandering plot, but this one dragged too much for me to enjoy it fully. Mexican Gothic progressed like some linear video game, Noemí forever followed one arc and each character dutifully popped up to push her forward. It resulted in a story that was a little too controlled for my taste as it never gave me the freedom to unravel mysteries on my own. The information was vague and doled out sparingly, which quickly extinguished my spark of curiosity. I would liken my reading experience to a 5 mph Doom Buggy ride through The Haunted Mansion. There’s a creepy story slowly unfolding around me, but I’m not actually a participant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great ride, just don’t expect to take the controls and go off the track.
I also didn’t find the characters particularly exciting, as they fit snugly within their tropes. However, Moreno-Garcia did craft an interesting dynamic between the effervescent Noemí and the family’s endearingly shy Francis. Their interactions stood out among the repetitive nature of Noemí’s dealings with the other family members. Surprisingly Noemí’s cousin, who is the sole reason for visiting High Place, is a rare sight throughout the book, so much so that I forgot her name (It’s Catalina, and yes, I had to Google it). Noemí’s character was hard to pin down. She was depicted as more than a socialite with a clever mind. However, I found that her ingenuity was rarely showcased, and most of the time she responded like a spoiled city girl. She was TOUGH for sure and stuck to her guns when needed, but her character could have been more fleshed out to display her brilliance.
Mexican Gothic commits to traditional themes which may enrapture some and disappoint others. I found the plot to be conventional. And although the setting may be in a unique region, the majority of the story keeps you locked away from the Mexican culture. I was expecting a modern twist on a classic and then found it hard to bridge the gap when the reality of the story unfolded. While it wasn’t necessarily for me, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a slow build and who doesn’t need to actively search out the story’s mysteries. Gothic lit fans, I have a good feeling you will eat this up, just stay away from the mushrooms.
Rating: Mexican Gothic – 6.0/10