Mexican Gothic: a creepy, not scary, gothic tale
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Awards: Nebula nominee
Published June 2020, 301 pages
I'm a little late to the party, but once I started this book, I found I couldn't put it down. I really enjoyed this tale of a family and the house that gives them a warped, evil power. Sharing the feeling of Rebecca (and apparently Wuthering Heights though I haven't read that one), it's the story of a house with powerful currents and the family that lives in it - and the spirited young woman who challenges the status quo.
Set in 1950s Mexico, this is an atmospheric, character driven tale that slowly builds to its creepy, icky (but not scary) climax. The old, falling-down-decrepit house is the star and the author does an excellent job setting up the situation. The descriptions are epic and made me feel like I was in that smelly, damp, creepy house.
“You’re very silly or very brave, living in a haunted house.”
Noemi is an excellent heroine as she develops from flighty socialite to determined young woman. She's a person used to getting what she wants due to a sense of entitlement, good looks and money, and a sassy, flirtatious nature. But, when push comes to shove, she finds a steely determination to deal with a definitely creepy (did I mention this book has some seriously creepy parts?) and scary situation.
Noemi's cousin, Catalina, has married an Englishman and was immediately whisked off to his estate. Later, when she receives a letter asking to be "saved", Noemi's father decides to send her to see if she can help. From the minute she arrives she senses the oddness and of the house and its inhabitants. I love how Moreno-Garcia slowly builds the tension as the house's character and nature gradually reveals itself when Noemi starts having nightmares and sleepwalking and begins to realize that all is not as it seems.
The other characters play good supporting roles - the cousin that she goes to "save" is a bit-player, more just a shadowy character that is ill and in need of saving. The male characters are appropriately creepy and terrible: the cousin's husband, Virgil, is a handsome, distant, dominating man; Howard is the crippled but demanding patriarch running the household with terror; and the younger son, Francis who tries to befriend Noemi. None of them are as fully developed as Noemi, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment of the story.
“Marriage could hardly be like the passionate romances one read about in books. It seemed to her, in fact, a rotten deal. Men would be solicitous and well behaved when they courted a woman, asking her out to parties and sending her flowers, but once they married, the flowers wilted.”
The ending isn't a big surprising twist. The mystery of the house's power is hinted at and revealed quietly so I didn't feel a big aha moment. None-the-less, the end is satisfying and appropriate. I don't read a lot of horror, but I'm glad I picked this one up!
Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21: a Goodreads 2020 winner (see how I'm doing with my challenges at the menu on the top of the page)