[Spoiler-Free ARC Review] Mexican Gothic

rating: ☾ ☾ ☾ ☾ ☾ {5/5}
goodreads
publication date: june 30th, 2020
rep: latinx main character & side characters
age range: adult
tw: cannibalism, gore, incest, child death, body horror
(note: eARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review)

summary: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed 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, smart, and has 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.

Initial Thoughts

First of all, I’d like to say, I SCREAMED when I got the notification for this ARC because this was my MOST anticipated arc of 2020 and I didn’t realize I even had a chance to get it. Secondly, one of the only good things to come out of this social distancing isolation is that I’ve had time to pick up my arcs and start reading again. I’m a HUGE fan of gothic stories and I’ll admit I’m getting tired of the eurocentric focus most gothic novels have. This book was a fresh and diverse take on a genre I adore. It did get a 5-star rating from me, so my review format will be a little different than the usual since I want to highlight the biggest strengths of the novel.

aTMOSPHERE

Any writer can tell you that setting up a good atmosphere is important to a book. However, for gothic stories, the atmosphere is VITAL. Readers must be able to picture themselves wandering in the moldy, old mansion and feel the main character’s confusion or terror throughout the story. Otherwise, what’s the point of walking around a moldy old house?

My point is that Mexican Gothic DELIVERS when it comes to atmosphere and arguably I’d say that it’s my favorite element of Garcia-Moreno’s writing. As a reader, you feel completely absorbed in the environment, the descriptions are so vivid and creepy; there were many times my skin crawled and I felt like I was the one being watched, even though I was in my own home. Don’t you love that feeling when a book is so evocative that you get absorbed in reading it and 3 hours go by, but you haven’t even realized it? I sat down at 11 am to read a few chapters of Mexican Gothic and by 2 pm I had finished it and was just sitting there stunned.

Interesting Characters

I’m a huge fan of writers taking the pretty girl/party girl character and making them the hero of the story. As the leading lady of the story, Noemí quickly wins you over with her smarts and charm. She smokes, drinks and gambles, everything a “good lady” shouldn’t do… I love her so much. While the story itself does focus on this terrifying house, there’s a deeper discussion of society’s expectations of women and the story explores how Noemí uses the power she does have to flaunt these expectations. It’s an interesting dynamic and you will LOVE watching Noemí defy the rules to save her cousin.

Another character that proved far more interesting than I initially expected was Noemí’s cousin, Catalina. She plays the role of the damsel in distress convincingly but she was far more clever then I realized, Catalina is 100% that bitch. The other characters in the story were hard to root for because they all seemed to have ulterior motives. So half of my reading experience was me trying to figure out who could be trusted, which added to the suspense of the story.

The Plot

The story itself was paced incredibly well. When the story got slow, it was to draw out a spooky scene or a dream sequence and it added to the atmosphere of the story. In regards to the plot in general, I LOVED it. My favorite gothic trope is the decaying house and the dysfunctional family living in it (listen we’re not going to analyze too closely why I like this trope I just do).

The twists the plot took me through were INTENSE and I could predict a few but some still took me by surprise. When an author writes a story and I can guess the twist, I’m satisfied because that means it was a logical progression. However, when I can guess a plot twist and then the author throws one more I didn’t even see coming… That’s the good stuff. Looking back now, I realize that there was plenty of foreshadowing, I just didn’t know at the time; it’s one of those books I’m going to buy and re-read because I want to savor it and catch all the little things I missed.

Incredibly Gothic

Technically, Mexican Gothic checks off almost every box that a “classic” Gothic book should have. Was I reading this to check off a list? No. However, as more crazy things started happening it occurred to me that this story includes almost all the elements of a classic Gothic story. There’s a gloomy and decaying atmosphere, an unreliable narrator, supernatural occurrences and brooding characters. It was so perfect dreamy sigh and yet there was also some intense body horror, cannibalism, and incest, so if any of that squicks you out just beware.
Despite some of the intense events happening, they all were vital to the plot. Nothing was there as a shock factor, each event helped move the story along. I reveled in the creepiness of the story. Each terrifying dream sequence and shadowy figure had me wide-eyed and curling up closer into my blankets for safety. I don’t know how many times I can state that this book was just the best in every way. It’s taken the spot of #1 in my 2020 favorites shelf, I’m not sure if anything else will be able to top it.

Commentary on Eugenics Movement

If you’re familiar with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s works, you know she likes to add commentary on relevant issues throughout her novels. In this novel, the family living in the mansion is obsessed with genealogy and family bloodlines, to the point where the patriarch makes multiple racist comments towards the main character, who is Hispanic. It gets increasingly disturbing as they obsess more over her bloodline and begin explaining that even though she isn’t “ideal” they think she’s strong enough to marry into the family to “supplement their bloodline”. However as the book nears its end, it becomes apparent that this family is weak because of this obsession and it gives Naomí room to use this weakness against them and emerge victoriously.
It’s a common trope in Gothic literature, especially Southern Gothic literature, to see racism and sexism intersect in a story. So I will say, I was so happy to have Silvia Moreno-Garcia take charge and write a book that subverted both of those tropes by having a woman of color save the day and torch White supremacy at the same time. Iconic.

Overall

Mexican Gothic is a MUST READ for anyone who enjoys classic Gothic tropes. There were references to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which had me like…

If you’re a fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s works in general, you’ll definitely enjoy this one. She brings all her talent into this one. Beautiful scenery, women not defined by their stereotypes, torching white supremacy and so much more. It’s easily my new favorite book and I will definitely be hyping it up as the release date draws closer because I think everyone should read it.

If you enjoy Gothic works, drop me some of your favorites in the comments! I need some new reads or films to watch this month.

3 thoughts on “[Spoiler-Free ARC Review] Mexican Gothic

  1. Excellent review!! I requested this on netgalley because of you and got approved!! I’m beyond excited!!! Gothic novels are some of my faves, especially female led ones!! 😀 🙂 I hope I love it as much as you, love the review!

    Like

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