Gothic fiction has made a minor comeback, but it’s entirely possible this book is inspired by the “X Gothic” meme circulating on Tumblr. I haven’t seen a Mexican Gothic version, but have no doubt that it’s out there.
This review contains spoilers.
So, What Genre Is It Anyway?
Mexican Gothic starts as gothic fantasy, and it starts as very classic gothic fantasy. A man gets a letter from his niece, Catalina, that indicates she may be going mad. Or being poisoned by her husband. Or both.
He sends the protagonist, Noémi, to check on Catalina and talk her into leaving. Maybe she needs rescue from a con artist, maybe she needs to spend some quality time in an asylum (the book is set in the 1950s).
Noémi finds herself in a hideous old house with insufficient electricity, cold baths, and harsh rules set by the Doyle patriarch. Who is also a eugenicist. And it’s hinted at the start that he might be a vampire.
This sets a scene for a classic vampire novel…
…and then the author goes “Nope. Gotcha!”
In fact, while Mexican Gothic is undoubtedly horror, with ghosts and things creeping out of the walls and strange dreams, it is not, in fact…fantasy. There’s a logical, if not mundane, explanation for the entire thing.
Class, Race, and Memory
Mexican Gothic is about class and race. We did mention that the bad guy is a eugenicist. In fact, he instantly judges Noémi for being darker than her cousin, for showing more indigenous “inferior” blood. (If you aren’t comfortable reading about these themes, I understand, but be assured that Howard Doyle has absolutely zero redeeming qualities whatsoever).
It’s also about class and exploitation, and about how these things stick around through the generations. The Doyles are inbred (for reasons which are explained and perhaps make sense to them).
Their burial grounds are segregated. The rich, then the white, then the not white may just have ended up in a pit.
The classic gothic “evil house” trope is thus used to explore these issues, with some very “eat the rich” implications creeping in. Moreno-Garcia is a brilliant writer who knows exactly how to use imagery to say exactly what she wants to say.
(Content warning: There are a couple of attempted rape scenes in the book. Sexual exploitation is also in there tangled up in anything else).
This is a lovely book, even if it does pull a bit of a gotcha on you (hint, no, Howard Doyle is not a vampire even if the first things we learn about him is that he drinks dark wine for dinner and brought dirt from Europe…)
And the imagery is rich and beautiful. It’s not my pick, but I understand how it might be somebody’s.