Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 30, 2020
Genres: Latinx, Fantasy, Fiction, Gothic, Historical, Horror
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is a buzzy horror novel that I’ve seen featured all over Booktube and Bookstagram. Readers looking for a horror novel with an intelligent and assertive female protagonist should consider adding this to their Halloween reading lineup. Noemi Taboada receives a concerning letter from her cousin Catalina. Catalina has recently married Virgil Doyle, an Englishman, and moved into their family home called High Place located in the mountains near El Triunfo, Mexico. The Virgil family established themselves at High Place after operating a nearby silver mine. In the letter Catalina claims that Virgil is trying to poison her. Noemi’s father sends her to High Place to check in on her cousin. While at High Place Noemi is allowed little contact with her cousin, who is supposedly suffering from consumption. The house is very creepy and depressing. Most of the Virgil family is less than welcoming. The Virgil family is led by the patriarch Florence Doyle who spends most of his time hidden away in his private wing. The only friend Noemi makes is Virgil’s brother Francis. The novel follows Noemi solving the mystery of the Doyle family and uncovering the secrets within High Place.
I really enjoyed the character of Noemi, who is an intelligent and strong female protagonist. Too often in horror novels the main characters are either too helpless or too naive about the peril they’re in. There was excellent body horror in the later portions of the book. Some gnarly descriptions of a particular character’s body in the later portions of the book were wonderfully repulsive. There are also some dark dream sequences that I enjoyed. The book has themes of colonialism. The Doyle family has set up their home in Mexico to run a mine and Florence is an avid supporter of racial eugenic theories. High House is almost a character itself in the novel. The descriptions of the home and its impact on the mood and characters is strong and reminiscent of gothic classics (major Fall of the House of Usher vibes).
My biggest critique with the novel is how the big twist is handled. I saw the answer to the main mystery from a mile away and assumed there would be another surprise layer to the story. Unfortunately, it played out exactly as I predicted. Moreno-Garcia leaves too many obvious hints. I expect most readers will figure out what is going on before they even make it halfway through the novel. For me horror novels where the plot centers around a mystery need to deliver an unexpected answer. Authors need to balance having the mystery be solvable while also making the mystery clever enough that most readers will be surprised when they discover the answer.
Mexican Gothic did not wow me as much as I expected it to. There are great aspects to the novel, but the too easy to solve mystery really soured my opinion. However, if you want a Halloween book with a Latinx protagonist or a recent release with gothic elements this may be worth the read. Hopefully the Hulu adaptation of Mexican Gothic will do a better job of making the story’s twist less obvious.