Very quickly into picking up this book, I bought the audiobook as well because I literally could not put it down or bear to be away from it for a moment of my non working time. There’s an addictiveness about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing and her dreamy storytelling that makes this one of the most satisfying novels I’ve read in years.
Since I was young, I have delighted in my romantic notions of Victorian England, however fanciful. The stately gardens, the pretty prose, the budding feminism, the crinoline stuffed dresses, elegant homes. To me with a Western upbringing, such imagery is somewhat mythical yet still familiar. Mexican Gothic was, in part, so thrilling because Moreno-Garcia wove this same imagery, but made it feel creepy, unfamiliar and, in the end, horrifying.
Without giving too much away, most of the story takes place in an old mansion, a Victorian monstrosity rotting as it sits out of place on a cold misty mountain in Mexico. You sense from the start that the house has somewhat of a life of its own, with strange power over its residents. It’s surely a compelling metaphor for the pernicious invasion of Western cultures and the detrimental effects that often last well after the invaders themselves have fled. Our protagonist Noémi is enviably chic, modern, fun, and flirtatious. Her insipid English counterparts, the owners of the creepy mansion, are exactly opposite: backward, boring, mean and stiff.
Moreno-Garcia carefully juxtaposes both the concurrent bigotry and fetishization – and shows how easily they can be conflated – Noémi faces from these strange foreigners who have lived for decades in Mexico. An insightful story about racism and colorism unfolds, as we learn more about the history of eugenics in Mexico, while unable to disentangle that historical story from the other fantastic horror story of rotting gloom.
For the fainthearted among us, by the time you reach her clever plot twist, and you remember this spooky gothic novel has been classified as horror, it’ll be too late. You won’t be able to put it down whatever your discomfort; Moreno-Garcia has trapped you and you will finish her spellbinding tale. You’ll also realize that this long-anticipated moment of revelation, isn’t actually a plot twist after all – she has buried the clues throughout the story. (I missed most of them.)
I’ve been glancing at reviews since I finished the book, curious of the reactions from others. I was struck by everyone mentioning all the brilliant ways that Moreno-Garcia has borrowed from genres and authors to build this Mexican Gothic horror mystery novel. To be honest, I didn’t notice much of any of that as I went through. I devoured the plot so quickly I scarcely had time to think about Bram or Ann or even Daphne, for that matter. My second time through though, I expect I’ll be hunting for the plot clues and fun literary nods I missed the first time.
Trust me when I say, read as little about this book as possible before you dive in. You’ll be better off without more of a summary than I’ve given you. The unsettling dread as you race through her pages without a sense of what comes next, is really half the fun.
P.S. If you’re on Twitter, Moreno-Garcia frequently tweets photos of the things that inspired this novel or fit the theme. The graveyard above is a picture that she recently tweeted of Real del Monte, a British town in the middle of Mexico.