Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic takes on racism, misogyny and New Imperialism with Gothic symbolism in this highly acclaimed novel.

Set in 1950s Mexico, Noemí Taboada is a young socialite with diverse and ever-changing interests — anthropology being her most recent obsession. Her traditional family, however, would rather she pursue a husband than a graduate degree.

But when a distressed letter arrives from her newlywed cousin, Catalina, Noemí strikes a deal with her father — he will grant her permission to enroll in graduate school if she serves as the family´s ambassador. While her father fears the shame of a well-publicized divorce (or that Catalina´s mysterious new husband is after the family’s fortune), Noemí is concerned for her cousin´s life. So she travels to the rural mountain village where Catalina lives at her husband’s family estate.

Enter the ominous castle — High Place.

The Doyle family are English expats who had once amassed a fortune in a Mexican silver mine, but whose exploitation of local labor and environmental resources eventually led to financial ruin. The mansion is now crumbling and overrun with mold and fungi. There is spotty electricity, little access to the outside world and seemingly no way to escape.

Extricating Catalina is not as easy as planned. Noemí has no legal recourse to take Catalina away from her husband, even if she fears her life is in danger. With only the help of a few villagers and an unlikely ally within the family, Noemí must take on both the Doyles and an ancient presence that lives within High Place.

For fans of the genre, such as me, the beloved tropes of the remote castle, dead brides, haunted legends and dream visions make for a delightful read on their own.

But Moreno-Garcia understands that the brilliance of Gothic horror lies not merely in the trappings, but in what they represent.

Probably the most obvious symbolism is the dying patriarch of the Doyle family, representing social destabilization and the end of the colonial era. But the paterfamilia has concocted a way to achieve immortality, even if it makes all of them prisoners of High Place.

It would be a horrible, oppressive fate, to waste away in a dilapidated mansion built on a crumbling ideology.

Noemí is the breath of fresh air that just might blow the whole thing down.

Fun read with social commentary and ancient curses. Well worth your time.

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