Name: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Number of Pages: 304 (ebook)
Published: June 30th 2020 by Del Rey
Genre: Gothic, Horror
After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
Noemí Taboada is called home early from a party. Her father has received an alarming letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin, and he wants Noemí to go and visit, and find out whether her cousin is well or whether she needs help. And so Noemí ventures off to High Place, home of the Doyle family, to discover what is going on at this old family home high in the mountains.
Mexican Gothic exudes a marvellously melancholy atmosphere that seeps through every descriptive passage. High Place, the great old house, from the very first moment Noemí emerges from the mist and lays eyes on the place, is central to the tale. Steeped in a far-reaching dark and violent history, illness, death and murder all feature, stretching back to the days when there was a thriving mining community in the area, and then there’s whatever is going on at High Place during these times.
There’s the English cemetery with it’s grand old mausoleum and stone figures, shrouded in mist and with fungus growing all around. The whole place is really atmospheric.
The house is fantastically imagined, age old grandeur falling into decay and literally mouldering away, wallpaper covered in black mold, ceilings the same, disused rooms with their coatings of dust and cabinets full of the family silver.
And the rules add another layer of strangeness. Hot water not needed for a bath, no need for electric lighting when oil lamps and candles will suffice, and similarly, curtains closed most of the time. No smoking, no conversation over dinner, it’s all so strict and severe and Noemí finds herself having to adhere to these eccentric whims whilst wondering how her cousin could possibly fit in and live in this way.
Noemi – socialite, fashionable, wealthy, flirty, a regular on the party scene, you wouldn’t necessarily think she would be the obvious choice to go to such a forbidding place. She is described early on by her own father as flighty, yet he also acknowledges her smart mindset is well suited to finding out what is happening at High Place and she’s marvellous throughout.
Confronted with open hostility and interference from almost everyone she meets, all the bizarre rules, and persistent attempts to keep her away from Catalina, Noemí remains undeterred.
In the face of repulsive old patriarch Howard Doyle and his unsavoury conversations and interests she still won’t back down, and even when the sensible thing would be to leave while she still can, she won’t abandon her cousin. She was sent to find out the truth, and she remains devoted to this task.
There are other books that the atmosphere of Mexican Gothic called to mind. It has a very slight air of Dracula in Noemí’s initial journey up into the mountains to High Place, and the mention of European soil shipped over to Mexico for the garden led me to half expect old Howard Doyle would turn out to be a vampire. The truth regarding that particular character is pretty stomach churning.
There’s also something a little Rebecca in that Florence has a similar presence as Mrs Danvers, overseeing the running of the house and ensuring that the rules are followed.
And yet Mexican Gothic is something unique in itself, from Noemí as the central character to the revelations that eventually come to light regarding High Place and the Doyle family.
The story is a really involved slow burn for the first two thirds, the tension gradually ratcheting up until the awful truth is revealed and from there the descent into horror is rapid and vivid. It’s almost as stomach churning as the moment a rollercoaster reaches the peak and drops suddenly. You know something is about to happen because there are so many things wrong at High Place, so many dark secrets, and it’s tense reading discovering whether Noemí will be able to save her cousin, and even by the end, herself.