The grisly, the sublime, and moral quandaries are all fascinating aspects of the Gothic genre—and Silvia Moreno-Garcia doesn’t shy away from them in her novel, Mexican Gothic.
Noemí Taboada is an intelligent and wealthy socialite who is used to a lavish lifestyle; she has everything she wants, and she plans to pursue a master’s in Anthropology. However, after receiving a letter from her newlywed cousin Catalina containing desperate pleas, her father obliges her to visit her place of residence: an eerie, cold house in the Mexican countryside called High Place. While staying there with the Doyle family, Noemí suspects that the air of abberation might be more than something in her head.
Set in the 1950s, Moreno-Garcia’s writing style and language certainly reflect the book’s time period. It’s quaint and elegant, yet descriptively grotesque when it needs to be.
She… felt the paper grow slippery, like a strained muscle, and the floor beneath her was wet and soft. [It] was peeling, revealing sickly organs… Veins and arteries are clogged with secret excesses.
Following the ultimate Gothic formula, Mexican Gothic is the pinnacle of a slow-paced novel that builds the tension gradually with thought-provoking themes. Important historical and geopolitical aspects in Mexico such as colonialism, Eurocentrism, and also other relevant issues particularly for that era such as sexism, are conspicuous throughout the book.
Reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Moreno-Garcia draws on the historical concept of women’s so-called hysteria: Despite women having little to no rights and complying to society’s expectations of being a submissive wife, along with being subjected to physical and emotional violence, their cries for help are merely seen as unwarranted bursts of emotion that are simply ingrained in women’s DNA:
Women needed to be liked or they’d be in trouble. A woman who is not liked is a bitch, and a bitch can hardly do anything: all avenues are closed to her.
This aspect is particularly harder for Noemí as she is a woman of color who has to reside with a white family lauding eugenics. As repulsed as she is, that does not cause Noemí’s tenacity to waver, and she becomes determined to find out what’s really going on with Catalina and the illness she has developed, her husband Virgil, and the rest of the Doyle family. While the metaphorical and physical darkness gets manifested the further Noemí dives, she also realises her fear of exploring people and herself in a more multifaceted way:
She was trapped between competing desires, a desire to make a more meaningful connection and a desire to never change. She wishes for eternal youth and endless merriment.
The psychological and supernatural elements complement each other well, and it reminds me that I need to read more (recent) gothic themed novels. I’d recommend this to anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of gore and follows an ambitious yet flawed heroine with a sequence of bewitching and foreboding turn of events.