Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I’ve been a fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia since Gods of Jade and Shadow, so when Mexican Gothic came out, I knew I had to add this to my October TBR list.
The story follows Noemi Taboada, a privileged debutante who knows precisely the effect she has on people. Normally, characters like Noemi infuse me with a distinct sense of immediate dislike, but she was so deliciously bold and unapologetic that eventually, I couldn’t help but find her endearing. When Noemi and her father receive a suspicious-sounding letter from her cousin, Catalina, she is charged with traveling to gloomy old High Place in order to find out whether Catalina is simply losing her mind, or if her husband is actually poisoning her food. Although it took me a few pages to really get into the mood and atmosphere, I rather enjoyed the detailed descriptions, the emphasis on landscape to infuse an overriding sense of suspense (so very reminiscent of Ann Radcliffe), and the peppering of more modern references that would occasionally remind readers we’re in 1950s Mexico as opposed to the Victorian era. I also really liked the deliberate references to other works, such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Catalina’s propensity for romantic sensibility — I found it to be clever (albeit on-the-nose) pastiche. I know a lot of people were put off by the writing style, but this is a Mexican Gothic tale set in the 1950s — if you were expecting any different, I think it’s safe to call that a lapse in judgement on the reader’s part.
It took me a while to get a grip on the (initially) slow pacing, but once this story picks up, it refuses to relent. Unfortunately for my terribly sore eyes, I ended up devouring this novel in less than 24 hours because I simply couldn’t look away! At one point, my eyes were practically begging for respite and I promised myself I’d go to bed after just one more chapter — except this chapter ended up being a horrific point of no return, a scene so ghastly and disturbing that I knew I had to finish this novel and see the villain defeated (because don’t all Gothic romance novels end with a triumphant heroine?) or I’d have nightmares.
When I look back, however, I do wonder as to the logic behind some of the more bizarre plot points, and the motivation behind certain character decisions. This is why Mexican Gothic felt more like a 3.5 star read as opposed to 5 — sure, some of the grisly scenes in the latter half still rake against my mind’s eye, but when a novel is more memorable to me because of questionable plot points as opposed to its protagonist and story, I know better than to give it a re-read. I did learn quite a few things about 1950s Mexico, though, and will be forever grateful to Moreno-Garcia for having given readers a privileged female protagonist who revels in her vanity as opposed to finding ways to fold herself into smaller, meeker, respectably invisible pieces.
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