The internet says a gothic novel must have (i) a spooky castle or mansion in a remote location; (ii) a thicc atmosphere of dread and suspense; (iii) ancient legends, mysteries, and/or curses relating to the strange family residing in the creepy castle; (iv) ghosts or supernatural events; (v) thicc sexual innuendo or (even better) explicit sex, which leaves the reader feeling dirty and delighted; (vi) women in distress; and (vii) tyrannical men who enjoy distressing women.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia has clearly consulted the internet, because her novel, Mexican Gothic, checks all the must-have boxes. However, despite observing all the conventions, the story never feels conventional, because her protagonist, Noemi, never wilts despite the peril she is in. And the house is spectacularly malignant. It is an organism intent on making evil.
The book opens with Noemi’s father receiving a strange letter from Catalina, his niece. Catalina has recently married Virgil Doyle and left Mexico City to live with Virgil’s family in their ancestral home. In the confusing and rambling letter, Catalina hints that she is now a prisoner of the Doyle family. Having grown up together, Catalina and Noemi are close, so Noemi is tasked with traveling to this barren corner of Mexico to find out what is going on.
Originally from Britain, the Doyle family has lived in Mexico for generations. But they remain anglophiles. As if that is not bad enough, the gruesome patriarch, Howard, has a disturbing interest in eugenics. Major Theme Alert: eugenics is bad. If you think eugenics is cool, do not read this book. It will only disappoint you. Also, what the hell is wrong with you?
If you think eugenics is problematic or (better yet) horrific, you will enjoy reading Mexican Gothic. The bad people are truly evil. Noemi is a strong, likeable protagonist. And though she becomes a prisoner of the house along with Catalina, Noemi is no damsel in distress. Quite the contrary. As Ms. Moreno-Garcia tells us, Noemi learned rebellion as a young girl in Catholic school while muttering the rosary. Her strength serves her well. But there is one frustrating problem with the book. The reader discerns what Catalina and Noemi must do to escape well before they do. And when Noemi finally figures it out, it is too late.
Or is it?
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor