Top positive review
Easily One of the Books You Must Read This Year
Reviewed in India on 9 November 2020
Mexican Gothic is easily one of the books you must read this year, and not just if you are a horror fan. Silvia Moreno-Garcia does a fabulous job of creeping you out with atmosphere, and she also makes you invest in the character of Noemí, our protagonist, who moves through the story arc from someone who is flippant and modernistic to someone who begins to accept and believe and develops a better understanding of familial ties.
I was pulled into the story in the first ten minutes. Noemí Taboada is urged by her father to pay a visit to her cousin Catalina, who stays in her husband Virgil Doyle's house in a small village in the Mexican countryside named El Triunfo. Catalina has sent a fervent letter claiming to see things in the house and that her husband is probably poisoning her. Placing family over everything else, Noemí puts her life on hold and heads out to the Doyles' House, High Place.
High Place is as weird as it gets, and the Doyles are the perfect residents for it. The house is huge and palatial but is almost worn out and moldy, and is practically at a level of disrepair. The Doyles were rich people, thriving off their income from the mines, but after an accident, the mines shut down and the Doyles lost their income. They are the creepy house on the mountain now, alleged to have buried the corpses of the miners without headstones, and who have now devolved into a shady existence.
In the house, there are no liberties. Aside of Virgil, there is Howard, Virgil's father, who is not just old but ancient. It is particularly enchanting to read his descriptions as Moreno-Garcia tells it to us bit by bit. It gets scarier when the near-fossil Howard develops a kind of curious fascination for Noemí, which Virgil thinks is quite normal. Then there is Florence, Virgil's aunt, who is a proper reflection of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Florence does not take too kindly to Noemí at first glance itself and admonishes her, and even keeps her away from meeting Catalina, which is the main purpose of her visit.
The one character you start rooting for is Francis, Florence's son. There's probably just a hint of a romance there, between Noemí and Francis, but Florence does not approve of it. Then there's also the fact that Francis appears to be harboring a major secret of his family's past, which includes the massacre of the previous family members by a daughter named Ruth.
Well, it takes time for Moreno-Garcia to establish these characters and the atmosphere of the house. But once that is done, the story takes off with gusto.
At about 40% of the story, when you wonder what is really happening, there is the revelation of the secret that the family holds. It goes much beyond Ruth (no, this is not Amityville Horror), it goes much beyond the normal ghost-in-the-walls kind of haunting, it goes much beyond anything. It has to do with a particular every day object, mostly edible, which we see all around us. And when this revelation, this deep secret, reveals itself, it is the money shot! This is where you know the book has transcended the common tropes of horror and gone way beyond.
I really loved the book when it hit its stride, which is after halfway. From here on, the action is relentless. You feel that you are on a journey and there are a lot of bumps. Noemí plans to leave the house, but she is held back because of one bizarre occurrence or another. And when it is revealed that there is an overall design in holding Noemí back and that design is laid out by the house itself, you start gasping for breath.
Mexican Gothic might be a tough read for some because it takes time to get the story rolling after its initial setting up of the premise, but those who stay after the halfway mark are richly rewarded. It is actually the climax where you see why the book has done so well and why it is topping most awards lists this year.
Do pick this one up to see how a masterful story is told, right from the time it starts as an idea in the head to the moment when it takes its finished form on paper. I strongly recommend Mexican Gothic to creative-minded folk who want to tell their own tales. This is a masterclass in storytelling.