Published by Del Ray on June 30, 2020
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror & Ghost Stories
Pages: 320 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
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 is probably one of the most buzzed about books of 2020 in my online social circles, and I can’t deny that it’s easy to see why when you look at the cover, the synopsis…just everything about it screams READ ME. As excited as I was to dive into it, I’ll admit I did have some reservations because I am not a horror type of gal. I’m so glad I did push myself out of my comfort zone though as Mexican Gothic proved to be a compelling, if rather surprising, read.
Set in 1950s Mexico, Mexican Gothic follows protagonist Noemí, a young socialite who dreams of pursuing a masters in anthropology, to a creepy house in the country called “High Place” after receiving a disturbing letter from her cousin who has married the heir to the estate. Her father, tired of her partying ways, strikes a deal with her- she goes and checks on her cousin, quashing any potential family scandals, and he won’t stand in her way of attending grad school. Never one to back away from a challenge, Noemí heads off to the country expecting to swoop in and save her cousin from perhaps an unhappy marriage and some eccentric relatives, but finds herself quite literally trapped in the horrors of High Place, which is as much an enemy and threat to her as those who reside in it.
The mystery of Mexican Gothic is a slow burn, and while undoubtedly atmospheric, I will admit the first quarter of the book or so had my scratching my head as to why it was labeled a “horror” novel. As a reader I could tell there were obviously shady things going on behind the scenes but there wasn’t anything outright scary. As Noemí continues to linger at High Place, refusing to leave her cousin under the care of this strange and stern family and their incompetent doctor (who blames her clearly physiologically distraught condition on tuberculosis), the story slowly became more sinister, through increasing nightmares, bouts of sleepwalking, persistent fog/gloom, and never ending mold- mold EVERYWHERE, on the ceilings, in the walls, between the pages of the books…the house truly had an infestation. Given Noemí’s father’s paint empire and her corresponding knowledge of chemical reactions I thought perhaps the book would follow a more scientific explanation (i.e. everyone in the house is just hallucinating because they’re all being slowly poisoned to death by mold spores in the air) but the plot of the book took science and melded it with the horrors of the paranormal to provide the foundations of High Place and the mystery surrounding the Doyle family. I can’t say much more than that without getting into spoilers but it was DEFINITELY something I hadn’t seen done before (although admittedly I have hardly read/watched any horror so keep that in mind!)
Noemí was a great protagonist for a story like this. She was a great blend of being strong yet still a normal person who also fell vulnerable to a house full of psychopaths at times, which is completely realistic (at least I assume, lol). She had moments of doubt or weakness but also balanced that with her natural predisposition toward resiliency and courage, and she was smart and could hold her own in conversations with the entitled, elitist Doyles (who, in a twist surprising no one, are huge Eugenicists). I also loved reading about her outfit descriptions, a bright spot in the perpetually dreary manor. Noemí’s fashions were sophisticated and colorful, and I loved that she was both an intellectual AND committed to fashion (and she herself even ruminates on why these two traits are often treated like they are mutually exclusive).
Now, the more “horror” type elements definitely pick up in the second half of the book, when Noemí learns the true history of High Place and the Doyles. While still not exactly “scary” in the traditional, jump-scare type way, this book definitely WENT THERE in terms of weirdness, unsettling descriptions, and gore. I honestly felt some of the gore was a little over-gratuitous, but then again once you realize what the root cause of the evil in the house is probably nothing will surprise you View Spoiler »I never thought I’d see the day where basically an evil fungus is the villain by way of glowing mushrooms but here we are. « Hide Spoiler I was definitely intrigued by the backstory of the Doyles and how they came to claim their horrific power (and everything did tie together neatly in terms of the other odd things happening in the town) but it was also just weird. So weird as to be much more absurd rather than frightening for me personally.
Overall: As I’ve mentioned throughout this review, I’m not a huge horror fan and therefore Mexican Gothic, while an intriguing read for me, didn’t rank an overly high review because at the end of the day it really wasn’t my cup of tea. BUT I do think it was well written and a really interesting twist on the classic “haunted house” story, and I enjoyed the experience of reading outside of my comfort zone.