I read Gods of Jade and Shadow and thought it was enjoyable, so I was excited to read Mexican Gothic. I’m not sure my expectations were met.
Noemi is a socialite in the upper-class of 1950s Mexico City. She goes to parties, she flirts, she wears beautiful gowns because she actually enjoys them, and she wants to go university against her family’s wishes. Noemi’s life gets upended when her father asks her to go check on her cousin Catalina who has written a strange and disturbing letter to the family. So in exchange for being allowed to attend the university of her choosing, Noemi goes to High Place in the Mexican countryside, the family home of Catalina’s English husband’s family to make sure that she is okay. She is not okay. In fact, nothing in High Place seems to be. The walls are damp. The Doyles, Catalina’s husband’s family, are believers in eugenics. And there’s a haunting force that visits Noemi in her dreams. Not entirely sure what is going on, Noemi does know that she has to get herself and her cousin out of that house, but the house has other plans.
I really enjoyed the themes of this book. Moreno-Garcia does not shy away from discussion of colorism, racism, colonialism, and eugenics. She doesn’t code the language from any of the characters which I appreciated. The Doyles, white and wealthy Englishmen, truly seem themselves as the pinnacle form of humanity in the town despite all evidence to the contrary. They cannot see the disparity between their sense of self and worth and the reality of their crumbling house, wealth, and health. It is infuriating.
Noemi, on the other hand, is wonderful. She is self-assured and self-aware. She knows what is expected of her in the world, and she uses that expectation as a weapon. She is clever and stalwart. She’s a respected socialite and an aspiring academic, and she wants to be both. There’s no dichotomy between the two. She has aspirations outside of what is expected of her class and gender.
Despite all of these positives, I did not like this book. I don’t think that it has anything to do with writing or plot or anything that Moreno-Garcia did; this book has cemented that I am not a fan of gothic novels. I enjoyed the light body horror in Mexican Gothic, but I wanted more. A spooky atmosphere and a sinister plot (which Moreno-Garcia was highly successful in creating) just isn’t enough for me in a novel.
My score: 2/5
If you enjoy gothic novels: 4 or 5/5