Earlier this year I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I really enjoyed but had a few minor problems with. However, I think Mexican Gothic really shows the writing talent that Moreno-Garcia has, and she seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved hype for her newest novel.
Mexican Gothic takes place in Mexico in the 1950’s. Noemí Taboada loves parties, fashion, and flirting, but when her father takes her aside and tells her that her cousin, Catalina, has sent an erratic, strange letter, Noemí gives up her city life to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside. Catalina had married into an English family (the Doyles) a few years before and moved into her husband’s family home called High Place. Once upon a time High Place was funded by a bustling, rich silver mining operation that employed many locals. Now High Place is a rundown, moldy mess of a house with no electricity and only a few silent servants. Catalina’s new family claims she is sick with tuberculosis, but Noemí has other suspicions. Noemí must navigate the family’s strange rules, the possibly haunted house, and the patriarch’s odd beliefs in order to find out what has happened to her cousin.
My personal life has been very stressful lately, which has greatly impacted my reading. I guess I’ve been in a reading slump, but this book pulled me out of it. I could not put it down once I got past the first few chapters! It felt like each chapter hinted a little at what was going on in High Place, and I kept thinking “just one more chapter, I’ll get some answers, then I’ll stop.” The sense of suspense and unease was woven throughout the narrative, and I really wasn’t sure if the author would kill off the characters I liked. The novel was very atmospheric. I’d call it “creepily claustrophobic.” I really enjoyed the novel’s pacing and the tension was addictive. The climax was satisfying, and the explanation for all the strange events was delightfully devious, if unsettling.
I also really enjoyed the characters, but Noemí was of course my favorite. I loved how she was so un-apologetically herself. She liked fine clothes, parties, flirting, her cigarettes, and she didn’t really care if other characters judged her for it. She was also so committed to her cousin and the people she cared about. She was also much more brave than I would have been in that situation. Catalina was unfortunately not given much time on the page. She is mentioned in Noemí’s flashbacks and memories enough that you get a sense of who she is, and her actions within the novel showed what a strong person she really was, but I thought she could have been developed more. The Doyles are also an interesting bunch. It was fun trying to figure out who to trust in the house and what all of their motivations were. The “bad guys” were pretty terrible, which made them satisfying to dislike and cheer against.
Though perhaps not an all-time favorite, I have to give it five stars. One small thing I didn’t like would be the romance. Although I actually liked the idea of them being together, it felt a little out of place and could have been developed more. Also, as I said earlier, I think Catalina could have been utilized more. I would have liked to hear more about how she fared in the Doyles’ household before Noemí arrived, for one thing. But with the book only being about 300 pages, it could have felt odd for Catalina to have her own chapters or to be centered on more. Having Catalina be more passive added to the suspense since the reader only knows what Noemí has found out, but I was interested in the goings on in High Place when it was just Catalina by herself. Like I said, those are just small gripes compared to how much I enjoyed this novel. If you’re looking for a spooky, quick read with a great lead character, pick this up!