by Icess Fernandez Rojas
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
What comes to mind when you think "gothic literature"? Maybe the phrase conjures a sense of Victorian dread, a damsel in distress, or even a gloomy castle or old house. In Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia dares to extend the gothic and horror genre, and now I can’t think of it any other way.
The aftermath of the Mexican revolution, eugenics, and the unapologetic and brutal practice of colonization take center stage. They fit in together like puzzle pieces, as if gothic stories were always told this way. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.
In this way, the novel is fascinating not only for the story that it tells but also the indirect story that lurks in the shadows like a whispered secret.
The tale begins with the heroine, as gothic tales tend to do. Noemi Taboada is a bored socialite in 1950s Mexico City. It’s one party after another, one gentleman caller after another, and the rules of womanhood–look a certain way, act a certain way, get married.
Her boredom is more apparent when her father points out all the hobbies, the college courses she has taken, and not one of has kept her interest. Noemi is flailing.
Noemi finds a sense of purpose when she is sent to investigate a mysterious letter from her cousin. Catalina, whose flair for the dramatic led her to be whisked away in a sudden marriage the previous year, is feared to be losing her mind.
Noemi’s visit to High Place, the Doyle mansion and Catarina’s new home, takes center stage in this novel. The Doyles are so English that they shipped English soil to Mexico.
But all is not well. Soon, the line between reality and dreams erodes. During her time there, Noemi learns of the past and how far some will go to continue their legacy. She also learns how far she will go to save her cousin Catalina.
At this point one must be careful of giving away any of the twists and turns of this marvelous story. The language is not heightened literary but it that doesn’t mean that the descriptions and the words don’t engulf the reader into the world.
But, if we were to use the characteristics of gothic storytelling as a checklist, everything would be there in spades. Moreno shows her almost cult-like knowledge of the genre by adhering to its characteristics and giving a wink to classic stories from fairytales to Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Dracula, Jane Eyre, and others.
That she mostly mentions English gothic novels and stories shows the reader that Moreno knows her stuff. But what Moreno also knows and shows is that gothic isn’t limited to stories from across the pond. Elements of Latin American folklore and customs blend in beautifully. There is no doubt that while the ingredients are gothic, this is a Latinx story right down to the town's curandera and leyendas.
And, almost, as a result, the broader themes come shining through the fog. In this way, Mexican Gothic is a social justice novel, an allusion to the issues that plague people of color. Colonization, racism, sexism, and gaslighting are heightened in this novel, highlighted even.
If there were a perfect mix to describe this novel best, it would be Jane Eyre, Dracula, and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Read during the daylight. Only.
Icess Fernandez Rojas has been published in PANK, Rabble Lit, and other publications. She is a VONA alum, and a Kimbilio Fellow. Follow her on Twitter: @Icess and at her website: http://icessfernandez.com.
Mexican Gothic is coming soon to LibroMobile's shelves! In the meantime, you can find it on Bookshop.org.