The first book I read of 2021 was very appropriate to put 2020 to bed. Or, at least I hope so. Mexican Gothic has been such a popular book that I put a hold on it at my library back in the first week of November. I wanted it for Halloween, but it seems like everyone in the county had the same idea. It was well worth the wait. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an excellent writer, and I can’t wait to pick up Gods of Jade and Sorrow at some point this year.
Noemí Taboada is called home early from one of her parties. She expects her father is going to reprimand her for going out with the handsome (yet not socially-desirable) young man she has chosen. However, things are quickly put into perspective when she reads the shocking letter sent to her from her cousin. A new marriage seems to have given way to psychosis, and Mr. Taboada is sending his daughter to investigate the letter. Set in 1950s Mexico, the glamor and possibility that Noemí holds is endless. Rich and on the edge of a possibly thrilling college career, Noemí instead finds herself investigating a horrible mystery unlike anything this natural world could have seen.
This book is a wonder of horror and thrill, full of disgust and intrigue. It gets scary and honestly gross. To be honest, I like the gothic horror aesthetic- but I’m not deep in it like some others are. I know this harkens to Lovecraft without having read Lovecraft simply because of the cultural significance. (That and I just bought my boyfriend a Lovecraft cookbook for Christmas, so I’m steeped in the imagery at the moment). If you have a weak stomach, do not read this book. If you are creeped out easily, do not read this book. The writing is fluid and well understood, with startling imagery that gives you pause. It is dark and wonderful for a stormy night’s read. Maybe you should even read it aloud, around a campfire. These are the settings to really give you the full effect of what this narrative can be.
Mexican Gothic also sits in that New Adult range rather than YA. It is harsher than some YA, and more realistic. Our protagonist is 22 and trying to figure out her life in her rich Mexico City environment when she is tossed to the middle of no where to figure out what is actually going on with her cousin.
Anything beyond this point might be on the spoiler side. Not entirely, but almost.
My favorite part, is I love how this author has used the gothic to write about Colonialism. It might not smack some people on the head like it would others, and honestly, I want more of this from Latin American writers. As I have what Columbus wrote (and sat through a number of Latin American Literature classes). I have great respect for the way Moreno-Garcia has flopped a familiar narrative on its head. She uses horror in a way that Get Out uses true crime.
Moreno-Garcia uses her mastery of genre and narrative to her full advantage to talk about something we’re just beginning to listen to in the United States. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue- right? Yeah, cool. Also, he committed some acts of genocide and actually died in poverty and shame. But we don’t talk about that, do we? No, we don’t. It doesn’t fit the neat Columbus Day to Thanksgiving narrative, does it? No. So we take the easy route. So did the evil guy in this book, and well. He didn’t end out as well as he would have hoped.
As a reader, I really enjoy it when people take a certain narrative- like the notoriously racist Lovecraft, and use it for their own powerful purpose. There are unassuming people who might pick up a book like this, and get a sense of an idea without it being rigid and academic. It is a powerful tool that we have, as storytellers and readers, to create a better sense of empathy and discussion around topics. Especially in younger readers. Giving this to classes to discuss colonialism and white power in Mexico, I feel would be a powerful teaching tool wrapped up in a very well written book with an interesting storyline.
Mexican Gothic succeeds because it’s a great story, well written and easy to read. It rings with truth that you don’t have to pick apart for educational purposes. You can read it and say “oh that was creepy” and move on. It has power beyond that, however, and I admire the craft put into this book. Thank you, to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for giving us this novel. I look forward to more of her work. Now, I must go dig up some Sor Juana to appease the spirits of Spanish Professors Past.
PS Is there an edition of the book where the Spanish is in Spanish and the English is in English? Would love to read it.