"You must come for me, Noemi. You have to save me. I cannot save myself as much as I wish to, I am bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin and it's there. In the walls."
'Mexican Gothic' by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a wonderfully dark story filled with twisting paths and wicked antagonists. I absolutely loved it.
Centering around wealthy Mexican socialite, Noemi Taboada, the story follows her to a creepy old mansion in the countryside in response to a desperate sounding letter from her recently-wed cousin Catalina. The missive is fraught with anxiety and implores the family to send someone to save her. Her father doesn't really take it seriously and neither does she, they both think the girl is on the dramatic side, but he asks her to go for a visit to assuage his mind in any case and see if she does indeed need help.
Upon her arrival, what she finds is a seemingly menacing new husband.. not the classy, charismatic Englishman Catalina seemed to be marrying, a chilling patriarch who appears to be obsessed with racial traits and uncomfortably interested in Noemi, and a household run with a rigidity that is unlike anything she's ever experienced. Having come from the city.. a glamorous debutante with her choice of parties and dates to accompany her.. regardless of her sometimes inconsiderate behavior, High Place is definitely a culture shock.
Francis, brother to her cousin's new husband, seems to be the only one who might be trustworthy. Unlike Virgil, Francis is rather soft-spoken, gentle, and seems to want only to help her. Though he too may be hiding dark familial secrets and as the house begins to invade Noemi's dreams, she digs deeper.. trying to get to the bottom of what's happening in an attempt to help her cousin.
"Noemi felt suddenly like a girl who had her knuckles rapped, and this made her raise her chin and stare back at the woman in the same way she had stared at the nuns at her school, armored with poised insurrection."
Honestly, the family is messed up. Howard, the patriarch.. is the most unpleasant person to experience. Even sitting at a meal with him.. trying to have a regular discussion, it's pretty plain that his views are so removed from polite society.. I'd want nothing to do with him. The moment he appeared in the story.. I disliked him.
The house is managed by Florence, Howard's niece, and she's almost equally unpleasant. Her demands of structure seem outrageous and the friendliest emotion she seems to manage is disdain.
I really believed I knew early on what the origin of the family was going to be.. but I was wrong. It's an incredibly unorthodox story and I love that it wasn't explained in a big 'gotcha' reveal.. so much as a slow, dawning understanding. For me personally, I felt I was sort of battered over the head with the symbolism a bit too frequently, but it's plausible that zealotry could manifest in that way.
"In a sense all dreams foretell events, but some more clearly than others."
Initially, I thought the book started out a little slowly, but as I read on I came to believe it was a methodical pace designed to put the reader in that carefree, rich party girl headspace. It gave me a chance to settle in, frown at the main character, and be dismissive of what was ahead because it didn't feel pressing. Likewise, my first impressions of the Doyle family only encouraged that thinking. I found them rude and cold, but not necessarily frightening.
Moreno-Garcia does a fantastic job of making sure the reader is exactly where she wants us to be. She's unafraid to use truly disturbing themes and manages to convey graphic scenes without the usual accompanying language. She's a gifted writer and now I find myself curious about one of her previous works, 'Gods of Jade and Shadow,' as well.
If you're thinking about picking this up and you like gothic horror, this is for you. There's plenty of mystery and extremely uncomfortable interactions to keep you turning the pages even before you understand what has occurred.
BARNES & NOBLE
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