by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.
Mexican Gothic has been everywhere this year, and as a long-time fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work I’ve loved seeing so many more readers discover just how good she is. Weirdly, though, it took me a while to get to this novel despite it being one of my most anticipated releases of the year, because I saw so much hype for it that I worried I might hype it up too much in my head.
I needn’t have worried. One of the things I love about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that I’m never entirely sure where it’s going, and that’s definitely true of this Gothic horror novel.
It’s Mexico in 1950, and socialite Noemí Taboada is asked to visit High Place, an old manor in the Mexican countryside, after her father receives a worrying letter from Noemí’s recently married cousin, Catalina. It sounds as though Catalina is unwell, perhaps she requires treatment for her mental health, and Noemí’s family want not only to make sure Catalina is safe and well, but also to make sure there’s no scandal for their family.
When Noemí arrives at High Place, however, it’s clear that something isn’t quite right. The English family who live there, once the proud owners of a wealthy mining empire, are peculiar and secretive, the townspeople claim the family are cursed, and Noemí often feels like something in the very walls is watching her.
As always, I fell in love with Moreno-Garcia’s heroine. Each of her novels has had a very different woman at its centre and I’ve loved all of them, and Noemí is no different. She loves parties and boys and drinking and smoking, but she also wants to attend university and she’s not someone who can be easily pushed around. If this were a Gothic novel written back in the 18th or 19th centuries, Catalina would probably be our innocent heroine – and I was very fond of Catalina, too – but I loved how Moreno-Garcia gave us a Gothic heroine of a different kind.
In this way Mexican Gothic is more Northanger Abbey than The Mysteries of Udolpho. Just as Northanger Abbey‘s Catherine views her world through a Gothic lens and therefore gets to the heart of the villain’s true nature, Noemí also feels like the heroine of a Gothic tale that has already been told. She’s both in a Gothic story, and yet also in a Gothic aftermath story. Much of the terrible things that have happened to women throughout the history of the Gothic genre have already happened by the time Noemí arrives at High Place, and instead we’re seeing the Gothic novel from the perspective of the rescuer rather than the innocent, vulnerable girl. If you’re a fan of Angela Carter’s fairy tales, this is a novel for you.
This is a Gothic novel in which women are allowed to be angry for all the crap they’ve been put through throughout the history of the horror genre, without ever pointing a finger at the horror genre as being the problem. Women have been writing horror for as long as the genre has been around, with Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe being some of the better known early examples, and this novel doesn’t criticise the genre itself, but instead really focuses our attention on the kinds of violence women are subjected to within the genre, which played out beautifully against the backdrop of Mexico in 1950, when women didn’t yet have the vote.
Mexican Gothic is so easy to read, and genuinely quite creepy at times–there were a couple of moments when I knew that, had this story been a film, I’d’ve jumped out my skin–and if you’re a fan of Gothic tales with creepy houses, like Rebecca, this is one novel you need to try. I didn’t know I needed a Gothic novel with a Mexican twist until I picked up this book, and now I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more Mexican horror.