I am a big fan of gothic fiction reinterpreted in postcolonial settings, so this was right up my alley. Moreno-Garcia’s novel follows Noemi Taboada, an upper class university student in 1950s Mexico City. When her father receives a strange letter from Noemi’s cousin, Catalina, Noemi goes to visit Catalina in the remote mining town where she lives with her husband Virgil’s family. Granted limited access to her cousin, who is said to be ‘recovering’, Noemi spends a growing amount of time with Virgil’s family, including his menacing but ailing father, Howard, his controlling aunt and her son/ Virgil’s cousin, Francis.
Noemi chafes against Catalina’s inlaws and all the house rules they impose, which are old fashioned, buttoned down and very different from her very social life back in the big city. Noemi makes friends with the town’s doctor, who provides her with some background on the house, the mine and the family- he also warns her that the miners who were imported from Europe, came down with a mysterious illness with unnerving frequency. She also makes friends with Francis, who confirms some of the doctor’s information. In the book’s third act, Noemi becomes increasingly unnerved by nightmares and strange occurrences- is it all in her head or is there something more nefarious going on?
As in any good gothic novel, the house is character of its own- isolated away from the village on a mountain, its once elegant décor is crumbling into decay. Everything is damp, there are mushrooms popping up everywhere and it even has its own adjoining fog-shrouded cemetery.
I tore through this one, and loved it- there is a lot that will leave you thinking- the critique of Mexico’s European colonizers, the expectations placed on women in the ’50s, the comparisons with all the gothic novels you may have already read (I got some Jane Eyre vibes) and the ending! Morena-Garcia really delivers on the creepy visuals that will stick with you. Would have given 5 stars but the beginning was a little slow to get going.