Mexican Gothic: A creepy gothic novel featuring fungus

Reposting to include Marion’s new review.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a 22-year-old flighty socialite living in Mexico City. She loves to dress up in beautiful gowns and high heels and go to parties with handsome young men. One evening she’s called home from a party early. Her wealthy father has received a strange letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin. Catalina thinks she’s in danger from her new husband’s family and is begging for help. Is Catalina really imperiled, or is she suffering a mental breakdown?

Noemí’s father asks her to visit her cousin at High Place, her husband’s family’s mansion on top of a mountain in an isolated rural area of Mexico. When she arrives, Noemí is shocked to discover that, indeed, her cousin is not well. Though Catalina has moments of lucidity, at other times she rails about ghosts and other hallucinations.

The house and its inhabitants are undeniably frightening. The old mansion is dark and dank, with little heat and electricity. Mold grows on the walls and in the books. The servants seem cowed and they hardly speak, except for the housekeeper who is belligerent and obsessed with making Noemí follow the rules. But even more awful is the family itself. Catalina’s husband is handsome, but creepy and possibly lusting after Noemí. Catalina’s father-in-law is the worst, though. He tries to appear as a loving patriarch, but he is obviously evil. Both men have a weird unsettling attraction to Noemí and she suspects it has something to do with her ethnicity (she is Mexican and they are white).

The only person in the house that perhaps Noemí can trust is a quiet, pale, and weak young man who Noemí may be able to manipulate with her charms. When she manages to sneak away from the mansion, she finds a couple of other allies in town. As Noemí investigates her cousin’s new family, she begins to uncover a sordid history full of madness, murder, suicide, racism, eugenics, incest, cannibalism, and dark magic. And fungus. She also begins to experience the same bewildering hallucinations that Catalina has complained of. Will Noemí descend into madness, and/or end up as a prisoner, just like her cousin?

Readers who love gothic novels will be most attracted to Mexican Gothic (2020). It’s got all of the spooky features and feeling of dread that we love in a gothic novel, but it’s freshened up a bit with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 1950s Mexican setting and characters and the lovely addition of fungus. The themes of racism and eugenics make the story even more disturbing. There are too many hallucinatory episodes for my taste, but they certainly added to the creepiness.

Noemí is charming, but a bit immature. I found it difficult to believe that her father would send her into a potentially dangerous situation (I can think of more plausible ways to get her to the mansion), but I thought Moreno-Garcia did a nice job with Noemí’s character development. I was a little frustrated with her, though, for not figuring out how to get out of her situation sooner. Maybe I’ve read more gothic novels than Noemí has, but the solution was obvious a lot earlier than Noemí figured it out.

Frankie Corzo narrates the audio edition of Mexican Gothic, which was produced by Random House Audio. Her voice is so pretty but the cadence is a bit choppy and may have detracted somewhat from the creepiness.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

~Kat Hooper


Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsKat gave an excellent plot summation of Mexican Gothic. I would add a warning. If you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep, don’t read this book at night. Noemí’s episodes, some of which seem to be dreams and some of which don’t, grow more sinister, and harder to classify (waking, or dreaming?), as the book continues.

Moreno-Garcia nails the Gothic style here: a grand house now crumbling to ruin; an isolated location; a sinister housekeeper; a madwoman (Noemí’s cousin Catalina plays that role); and a labyrinth of secrets. Like Kat, I really enjoyed watching the character of Noemí go up against the Doyle family, especially Howard, the virulently racist patriarch with his love of eugenics and his tirades about superior and inferior races.

Noemí is young, flirtatious, and has never had to take anything seriously so far in her life, but her loyalty to Catalina is unshakeable. She is also smarter and more educated than the Doyles or the reader might have expected. This doesn’t make her immune to the forces in the house and the grounds beneath it. A chorus of dead and discarded wives and daughters enhance the creepy, ghostly quality of the story, as do the mushrooms, the mold on the walls and the rafts of tarnished silver (the Doyles made their money from a silver mine).

The choice of setting this story in the 1950s was a good one and Moreno-Garcia sprinkles in period details deftly. It is modern enough to give Noemí the education and the specific means she needs to defeat the evil of High Place, while allowing for the physical and psychological isolation of High Place to be convincing.

This is a horror novel, and not particularly funny, but Moreno-Garcia has a dark, gin-dry wit, and we see flashes of it through Noemí, like when she thinks that Howard must have a set of calipers so he can measure skulls — then later revises that; he must has a whole collection of calipers. Her interplay with a healer in the nearby village is a blend of irreverence, banter and respect. That’s hard to pull off but Moreno-Garcia does it.

If you like smart, irreverent heroines facing misogyny and racism, immersive, creepy and seductive gothic horror where you, like the character, can’t quite tell what is real and what is a dream, or you’re interested in 1950s Mexico or just a bit of that country’s history, Mexican Gothic is for you.

~Marion Deeds

Published in June 2020. An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets… After receiving a frantic letter from her newly wed 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.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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5 comments

  1. Kelly Lasiter /

    To the wishlist! I like Gothics, and I really liked her previous book.

  2. I think you do have to love the Gothic novel to get into this one. I’m a big Moreno-Garcia fan, but I bounced off Mexican Gothic relatively early.

  3. Marion, I’m glad you liked this one. I also noticed the sense of humor and it makes me want to read more of Moreno-Garcia.

  4. Ooh, sounds awesome! Added to my to-read list. :)

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