Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – An updated Rebecca?

Mexican Gothic
Category:
Publisher:
Published: 2020
“The walls speak to me. They tell me secrets. Don’t listen to them, press your hands against your ears, Noemí. There are ghosts. They’re real. You’ll see them eventually.”
Keywords:
  • Stifling 
  • Suffocating
  • Invasive 
  • Damp ( don’t ask )
  • Gaslighting
  • Moldy but in a kinda boring way where you just kinda think ‘have you heard of that cool Mold spray, I swear it only cost like 3 euros, just psst psst in the corner and I swear it’ll go away’

Synopsis 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is set in 1950s Mexico. It features a strong willed 20 something socialite from the big city. Said fashionable aspiring anthropologist is sent to the countryside by her father to check up on her beloved cousin, who had written a worrying letter soon after having married an old English mining family (more on that later ). The story basically takes place in this English Manour full of mold and features Ms. ‘fashionable and smart = FEMINISM’ trying to figure out what’s wrong with her cousin by…only occasionally asking the condescending housekeeper lady if she can see her.

What I loved: the writing, the atmosphere, the setting

What I didn’t love: the characters, specifically all the side characters – character depth and development. The plot.

Ending: The ending doesn’t save a book ( or a character – yes I’m looking at you wimpy dude )

I really wanted to like this book. Post Colonial Gothic, the blurb mentions Rebecca, it’s set in Latin America. Aaaaaaand I didn’t hate, but I also didn’t love it. 

Post Colonial Gothic Fiction

Post Colonial Gothic Fiction uses the Gothic genre to explore imbalance of power, Colonial legacies and concepts, and well, race. It can turn familiar tropes on their heads, it can veer in a completely different direction by focusing more explicitly on the aftermath of colonialism and cultural imperialism. It’s a rich and ever growing genre of literature. Mexican Gothic decides to situate itself comfortably within this section of the Gothic by bulldozing ahead with a smidgen less subtlety than one would think by simply littering the text with mentions of Eugenics. It’s everywhere ALL THE TIME. And Eugenics exists and is relevant and horrifying etc etc but the way it is written into the story is clumsy, it lacks depth. The constant references to it feel like repeatedly getting boinked in the head. After the first time, I think everyone got what the author was going for. My gripe is that these types of things should be inferred, you don’t need to be told directly.

Although it should be said that opulent over the top, almost caricaturesque elements are also a feature of the Gothic genre. This can also be said for the characters themselves:

Characters

So this is my main pet peeve with Mexican Gothic. Let’s start with the cousin. I felt that her character was so central to the story and yet we never see her. Despite her being the whole point of this creepy visit, and therefore OF THE ENTIRE BOOK, the protagonist doesn’t seem that interested in her, in talking to her, or checking on her. She kind of just gets told she can’t and her response is ‘ok sure’. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I honestly felt like her cousin ends up being kind of a loose end in the story. The main character on the other hand, is very relatable and the author does a great job in representing her state of mind and her personality in a way that is genuine and likeable and yet also admirable enough to be aspirational in a way.

More generally the Doyle family comes off as a caricature. Which again, can be Gothic in itself, but it can make the story feel a little surface level.

The good parts

The atmosphere and setting are very well done, specifically there are some very uncomfortable scenes that are a great example of the interplay of the sexual and grottesque in the horror genre. These are also the scenes that bring home the powerlessness that these kinds of unequal power dynamics create as well as the agency that you can still maintain, as demonstrated by the strong female main character. As well as the moments that evoke the most visceral reaction from readers.

The book is certainly enthralling, as evidenced by the time it took me to read it (a day), you can’t put it down. It draws you in and digs its claws into you so that, even when you are so disconcerted that you do want to climb out, it doesn’t allow you to. It does what horror should do, which is to trap you in the dark.

Seasons

So I read this in a day, while I was sick with covid and quarantining in my uncles spare bedroom in the northern irish countryside. Did this impact my experience? Probably, yeah. Am I still gonna review it? Yeah. I read this in winter ( despite how unseasonable this review is ). I’d say May end of spring is the worst time to read this ahahah. Or maybe summer would be worst.

The fact that I read it in one day is a testament to something being done right. The question is if it was the book, or the fact that I was stuck in a room with nothing to do….

Overall

 

Overall Mexican Gothic centres around the familiar trope of gas lighting and ripping the foundations from underneath you, only counterbalanced by the sheer personality of the main character.  This story had a lot of potential and if it weren’t for some very uncomfortable but effective scenes that are not intended for anyone underage or under 16 I would have thought that this book was aimed at a younger audience. BUT, since it isn’t I’d say it falls a little short, but still entertaining.

 If you go to Goodreads the author highlights and explains various themes while referencing the Cambridge companion to gothic fiction a lot. This gives you great insight into how well thought out the story is and the tropes that it uses, as well as how she turns some tropes on their head. Such as the spineless man and the courageous socialite girl. And by all means in theory this book should be great, it just falls a little flat. 

A Post Colonial Gothic fiction book that holds a bit more nuance but is also a little more confusing is White is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

 

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