A review copy was provided by netgalley and Random House Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Content warnings: Body horror, abuse, incest, gaslighting, attempted assault, blood, mentions of cannibalism
My Rating: 5 Books out of 5
- Noemí is the fabulous heroine we all need.
- Seriously this woman could face down Satan himself and she would do it in a gorgeous dress and full makeup, she is my idol.
- Never trust suspiciously isolated rich people
- Especially if everyone they hang out with or employ DIES
- The writing is just stunning
- It has A Spotify Playlist!
She recalled, rather grimly, that certain fairy tales end in blood. In Cinderella, the sisters cut off their feet, and Sleeping Beauty’s stepmother was pushed into a barrel full of snakes. That particular illustration on the last page of one of the books Catalina used to read to them suddenly came back to her, in all its vivid colors . Green and yellow serpents, the tails poking out of a barrel as the stepmother was stuffed into it.
This is one of those books that I saw everywhere before it came out, and those can be a double-edged sword. Will they live up to the hype? This one absolutely did. A beautifully atmospheric and deeply haunting book, it’s not just a pretty cover (but my GOD what a cover, isn’t it stunning?).
Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Mexican Gothic follows Mexican socialite Noemí Taboada as she travels to visit her cousin Catalina following a concerning and mysterious letter. Catalina claims her new husband is poisoning her, her ramblings about the family home – the secluded and aptly named High Place – and its happenings tinged with hysteria. Stepping outside her comfort zone, a world of glittering parties and suitors, where the expectations that Noemí marry well clash with her desire to study at the National University, she casts aside the bustling city for a lonely mansion atop a treacherous hill.
I love gothic literature, with its moody atmosphere and crumbling ancestrals homes, and this book was just a gorgeous homage to the genre – and one that calls to attention the string of silently abused and forgotten women that it leaves in its wake. Catalina represents the madwoman in the attic, the wife locked in her room for her own safety, the powerlessness of the gothic bride against the insanity that surrounds and threatens to consume her at every turn. She dreamt of fairy tales and forgot the blood that flows through them. With her mysterious high-born groom whisking her away to his estate in the country, Catalina speaks not a word to the cousin she adores until a letter of her ramblings shows up on the doorstep. Noemí expects a brief trip, intending to bring Catalina home to Mexico City for psychiatric help, but High Place seems unwilling to let them go. Standing in the shadow of tragedy after tragedy, the house is a place of silence and decay. The Doyle family are clinging to the remnants of a dying era – and to a country they left long ago. In an extract that just screams Dracula and his boxes of Transyvalian dirt, we see the following exchange:
“That’s what we call it , our home. And behind it, the English cemetery.”
“Is it really very English?” she said, smiling.
“Yes,” he said, gripping the wheel with both hands with a strength she would have not imagined from his limp handshake.
“Oh?” she said, waiting for more.
“You’ll see it. It’s all very English. Um, that’s what Uncle Howard wanted , a little piece of England. He even brought European earth here.”
It does beg the question, if you love England that much then why did you move to Mexico but that is rather the point. The theme of colonialism in gothic literature is impossible to avoid, and nowhere more so than in Mexican Gothic. Catalina is forbidden from speaking her own language in her new home, entering an existence where her husband’s language and culture take precedence over her own. That and his family Patriarch’s unhealthy obsession in Eugenics make for a highly uncomfortable living environment.
Even without everything that follows, that alone is a substantial reason for Catalina’s melancholy fading.
The writing in this book is just gorgeous, often dreamlike and unnerving to the extreme. It is so easy to picture High Place and its graveyard, the mist that creeps in and feeds the mould growing up the walls, such a cold, damp, desolate place clinging to the remnants of ‘greatness’. The Doyle’s are menacing and standoffish – does Virgil truly not care for his wife’s madness? Is Noemí correct when she thinks him distant, even cruel in the face of Catalina’s decline? In a house where words carry, how is Noemí to find answers and help her cousin before it is too late?
Mexican Gothic is one of those books that will stay with me, it is horrifying and hauntingly beautiful and the perfect piece of modern gothic literature for those of you also fascinated by old houses and the secrets they keep, by noises in the night, figures in the cemetery and women tired of taking shit from a world trying to devalue and dismiss them.