by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 25, 2020
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Silvia Moreno-Garcia's sixth novel, Mexican Gothic, will be published in about five weeks, June 30, but I received an advance e-book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I have read and reviewed all of her previous novels, along with a novella. She hasn't repeated herself yet, other than most of her protagonists being young, strong-willed women. The first clue as to what was going on made me think she was going to repeat a theme, or I was reading into it something not intended, maybe it was misdirection. Even when working within standard tropes and themes she is never predictable, and I was surprised at several points along the way. Since I don't read other reviews beforehand, nor search for clues about plot, I wasn't sure if this would be a standard gothic mystery such as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, or whether it would have any supernatural horror elements.
The story is set in 1950, beginning in Mexico City, but then moves to a remote mountain area in Hidalgo State. Following several strange and disturbing letters from her cousin Catalina, Noemí Taboada travels to High Place, the ancestral home of Catalina's husband, Virgil Doyle. The Doyles are English, having come to Mexico in the late 19th Century to mine for silver after their English mines had played out. Now their Mexican mine is abandoned, High Place and the family in decline, all victims of the Mexican Revolution, as well as mysterious illnesses which took the lives of many of the mine-workers. Noemí's father is a wealthy businessman, she's a socialite whose life is filled with parties, wine, and dancing. She is intelligent and inquisitive, but none of her interests have lasted long, neither music, or theater, and maybe not her current fascination with anthropology. She wants to come to Catalina's aid, not just because of her affection for her cousin, but her father promises he will finance her higher education if she helps. Her usual bright, floral dresses and red lipstick clash with High Place, but she knows it probably fits Catalina's fantasies, since she had always been an avid reader of fairy tales and gothic romances.
Noemí is met at the train station by Francis, Catalina's cousin-in-law, and his description of being pale and wan made me think…vampire…but no, something else is going on. Later, a frequent decoration at High Place gave me another impression. Carved in woodwork such as mantlepieces, cabinets, headboards, as well as woven into carpets and drapes, even in stain glass windows, is Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. Aha! She's referencing Bram Stoker's Lair of the White Worm. Not quite, although the resurrection theme of Ouroboros is still evident. It is possible Silvia is referencing another work of fiction, or mythology, but I'm not well-read enough to identify it. This is horror, with several scenes that repulsed me, but at the same time they were fascinating, mesmerizing. And that's all I will say about that.
With every subsequent review, I've repeated that Silvia doesn't disappoint. Her characters are vividly rendered, the dialogue and exposition clear and precise, the stories resonate realistically even when they are fantastic. As for this book, Silvia recently said on Twitter that people identifying it as Young Adult are wrong. Yes, Noemí is in her early 20s, and it can be appreciated by young adult readers, but that doesn't make it YA. It's bleak, bloody, horrifying, frighteningly oppressive, and you will fear for Noemí's life and sanity multiple times. There are dreams within dreams, you will have difficulty distinguishing between dream and reality, as does Noemí. Fairy tales may all end happily ever after, but that's not necessarily the case for gothic tales, and I'm not revealing the end here. You'll just have to read it yourself, which I highly recommend. And that goes for everything else Silvia has written.
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