Michaeline: Mexican Gothic is Gothic Romance Distilled

cover of Mexican Gothic a young woman in a dark red New Look dress; her eyes are cropped out, and so are her feet. She carries a bouquet of flowers. Green flocked wallpaper in the background

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (via her blog)

Last week, I was in the mood for something dark and spooky for Halloween month, and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was everything I wanted and more!

The book, which came out June 30, 2020, reminded me of so many different kinds of Gothic romance. It’s a bit weird, but the first thing that came to mind was Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm, written way back in 1932. CCF was apparently a parody of dark and gloomy “rural life” gothic romances that were popular at the time; a sophisticated young society woman gets involved with distant family who live on a dilapidated farm and have quite a few issues. In CCF, the heroine is no-nonsense, and whips everyone right into shape with Modern Ideas, and most (if not all) get a suitable happy ending.

Noemí Taboada is a dazzling, giddy yet intelligent socialite in 1950s Mexico City who is sent by her father to check up on an orphaned cousin who is having some problems in her marriage. Noemí reluctantly agrees, and while she brings modern ideas and solutions with her, she doesn’t (and can’t) implement them in the bossy, brusque way Flora Poste does to Cold Comfort farm. Her antagonists are stronger, more stubborn and weirder, and quite frankly, it makes for a better conflict.

Cousin Catalina has married Virgil Doyle, a second-generation Mexican who is the son of a silver mine owner, the ailing Howard Doyle. The Doyles live an English lifestyle in the mountains near the mine, complete with a neglected manor.

Mountains are perfect for the traditional Gothic homestead. They are isolated and hard to get to, and the roads (of course) are bad and prone to washing out in wet weather. We don’t get any dark and stormy nights in Mexican Gothic, but the feeling is there. There is mist. Oh, so much mist.

The mountains remind me of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794; Jane Austen read her), which are set in partly in very distant mountains, and the orphaned heroine, Emily, is tormented by her aunt’s husband. The mist? Emily Brontë’s moor in Wuthering Heights.

Noemí is met by Virgil’s cousin, once removed, at the train station, and on the slow, bumpy journey to High Place, Francis drops all sorts of mysterious hints and bits of history of the Doyles who have come to this place many years ago. Interestingly, they haven’t made much of an effort to assimilate; Francis speaks Spanish fluently, but warns Noemí that most people at High Place don’t. Noemí reassures him that she’s studied English, and switches to English for most of the rest of the book.

There isn’t a strong sense of “Mexico” in the book. Some little details are mentioned, and it’s definitely Mexico . . . but it’s easy for a reader to create someplace else. The setting details add up to “Gothic manor” rather than any country, really. You have to think more deeply to realize what Moreno-Garcia is doing here. The Doyles are most certainly exotic foreigners and outsiders, in the grand tradition of the isolated Gothic home. Their family history and their class keep them away from the town, but also their standoffishness, and the language barrier make High Place its own world, self-contained. Gothic to the max.

I don’t want to get into any spoilers, but I did want to mention that the wallpaper in Noemí’s room is amazingly done. It references directly poisonous wallpapers of the 19th century, but also whispers about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th century short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” about a woman who is forced to take a “rest cure” that is driving her crazy.

Poor Catalina also is the crazy woman in the attic, but she finds her agency in the end.

The horror and thrills are delightfully creepy . . . just the kind of thing you want with a hot beverage and a warm blanket. It blends old-fashioned eldritch with modern ideas about environmental factors that can drive us mad and even kill us in our own homes.

I loved Mexican Gothic. Not only was the story fantastic, but the references made me feel like a very smart and empowered woman, and the whole meta ideas will keep me occupied for weeks. Perfect for the Halloween story-telling season!

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Mexican Gothic is Gothic Romance Distilled

  1. Hmm. . . normally “dark and spooky” aren’t on my list of things I look for in a book, but you mentioned Cold Comfort Farm (which I loved) and The Mysteries of Udolpho (which I enjoyed), so maybe Mexican Gothic deserves a chance. After that Yellow Wallpaper reference, I’ll admit to a fair amount of curiosity.

    If nothing else, I think I’d have picked up the book after seeing the cover. I can’t wait to see how the story delivers.

    Thanks for the recommendation and Happy Halloween Month.

    • It is spooky and dark, but it doesn’t have cheap scares and thrills. No gore, either, but there are some triggering issues. Actually, quite a few if I think about it. There IS a happy ending, though! Happy Halloween Month to you, too!

  2. It sounds so interesting! And it’s a strong reminder of how artists cross cultures in their work. All those references, probably intended but maybe not, and how they influenced this story. I need a gothic for Halloween!

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