Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A review

Mexico in the 1950s. Noemí Taboada is a twenty-something party girl living in Mexico City, the daughter of a rich family. She wants for nothing, except perhaps independence. Her role, as seen by her parents, is to find and capture a suitable husband and settle down to producing grandchildren. But Noemí has other ideas. She may be a flighty and flirty young woman who enjoys her effect on the men in her circle, but she also has a more serious side; she wants to go to college to study anthropology.

Her father sees no need for that but since she is stubborn in her desire for an education, he offers her a deal. He will allow her to go to college and study anthropology if she will do one teensy little favor for him first. 

Some months earlier her orphaned cousin, Catalina, had married a handsome English-Mexican named Virgil Doyle and they moved to his family's country estate and a house called High Place. Now Noemí's father has received a paranoid sounding letter from Catalina that accuses her husband of poisoning her and speaks of voices in the walls of the house and an overall aura of rot and decay. He asks his daughter to go and visit Catalina and find out what's going on. If she does this, she can go to college.

It seems like a good deal to Noemí, so she's up for it and off to the country she goes.

She finds High Place to be an imposing and gloomy pile and once she's inside she finds that Catalina had not exaggerated. It does exude an air of rot and decay. The walls are covered in mold and the Doyle family itself is pretty moldy. In addition to Virgil, there's his less attractive cousin Francis, Francis' mother Florence, the ancient family patriarch Uncle Howard, and various silent and robotic servants. Then, of course, there is Catalina who is confined to her room with (alleged) tuberculosis. Noemí finds that she is hardly allowed any time with her cousin and almost never alone. 

Then the hallucinations and the sleepwalking begin. Soon Noemí hardly knows whether she is waking or sleeping. She sees ghostly presences and hears voices and that mold on the wall of her bedroom seems to be moving...

Moreno-Garcia sets her creepy, eerie atmosphere with great attention to detail. One can feel the damp and smell that mold and shudder at the silent gloom of that huge house lit only with candles and oil lamps. The sensible thing for Noemí to do would have been to run as far and fast as she could and get help to rescue Catalina. But, of course, she doesn't do that. Plucky Noemí will rescue her all on her own. Well, she does at least find an ally in Francis, the least objectionable Doyle. 

I saw a positive review of this book in The Washington Post and then looked at the reviews on Goodreads, most of which were five-star raves. Well, I'm always up for a good gothic. Didn't I like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? And isn't one of my all-time favorite books Rebecca, a book which I read over and over again in my twenties? But, sadly, Noemí is no second Mrs. DeWinter, Francis is no Max, and Florence, though certainly creepy enough, is no Mrs. Danvers. And Moreno-Garcia is no Daphne du Maurier. She goes overboard on the creep factor of the Doyles and their gray, funereal house, but her characters are just words on a page. They never came alive for me and consequently, I couldn't care about them. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book, I was rushing through, just wanting to get to the end. Far be it from me to criticize anyone's rave review of a book. Read and let read is my motto. But I just couldn't "get" this one and I was glad to see the end of it.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

  

Comments

  1. Sorry to learn you disliked this novel. I recently acquired it based on all the hype surrounding this novel, but have yet to read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be interested to read your thoughts on the book. I am definitely in the minority on this one.

      Delete
  2. It is rarely that you award only two of five stars so this one must be a real dog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be honest, my first impulse was one star, but I decided to be generous.

      Delete
  3. Uh oh. Thanks for letting me know this one didn't live up to good gothic. I had seen it around and almost got it .... but I think I'll pass from your review ... too many other things to read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's certainly no lack of good books to read. We are blessed with a surfeit of excellent writers at the moment. This one was a severe disappointment to me, but, again, many people loved it.

      Delete
  4. I get your sour reaction to this one. Perhaps the marketing comparisons are misleading? I may try it anyway. One of my reading groups likes to read Latinx authors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it was the supernatural aspects of the story of the Doyle family that were just a bridge too far for me. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read it.

      Delete
  5. Too bad that the book cake up short for you as the plot seems interesting. On the other hand, it really takes a combination of factors to make a.novel work. Characters are very important and if a writer cannot makes them work it usually ruins a good story.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I actively seek out books that have Hispanic elements, but I don't like scary stories and your negative review has decided me: crossed off my list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't necessarily mind a bit of a scare, but it needs to be based in reality and affect characters that I care about. This one didn't meet those requirements.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver