Silvia Moreno-Garcia digs deep into the British gothic tradition in her latest novel Mexican Gothic. Set in the mountains of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, Mexican Gothic transplants these traditions into a Mexican setting, creating deeper resonances of imperialism and control.
It is the early 1950s and Noemi Taboada is part of the high society of Mexico City. Attending chic parties, and setting herself up as an object of desire for a bevy of young men. But when her father asks her to go and check on the welfare of her cousin she goes without hesitation. Her cousin Catalina has recently married a man called Doyle, heir to a British silver-mining family who have an estate near their now abandoned mines in the mountains of Hidalgo. Noemi soon finds herself in the Doyle’s spooky, isolated mansion, High Place, bristling at the rules imposed on her and her ailing cousin. But she is well read enough to notice the gothic stylings of the place and the strangeness of the silent people in it.
From there Moreno-Garcia turns up the gothic mood and hints of horrors to come. Noemi finds herself sleepwalking as she lucidly dreams. She thinks she is starting to see the ghosts associated with family stories of killings. The house is separated from the town and is itself is perpetually covered in mist. Noemi cannot go far and her walks take her to an even more creepy graveyard where her only ally, her cousin’s husband’s nephew Francis, gathers and sketches mushrooms. Francis is continually trying to encourage her to leave, but Noemi’s sense of honour and commitment to her cousin keeps her in the house even as her dreams get wilder and things get decidedly creepier.
Despite being familiar with gothic tropes, Noemi does not heed the warnings and about two thirds of the way through, Moreno-Garcia turns up the heat on her. The source of her troubles are explained in a way that has been hinted at so does not come as a total surprise either to Noemi or the reader, but by that time it is too late for Noemi to run. At this point the horror and thriller elements start to ramp up and Noemi finds herself confronting a malevolent and seemingly unstoppable force.
Moreno-Garcia has successfully transplanted the English gothic tradition to Mexico, in a way that has an imperial feel. Underpinning this horror tale is the story of how the British exploited the local Mexican people to further their silver mining concern. And there are undercurrents of the inherent racism of those imperialists, that continue through the Doyle family, juxtaposed not only against Noemi’s inherent Mexican-ness but her studies of anthropology. All of this adds depth to what is otherwise an effectively creepy gothic horror tale with a plucky, engaging heroine at its centre.