“You must come for me, Noemí. You must save me.”
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s bestselling novel “Mexican Gothic” begins with Noemí Taboada receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin Catalina, begging for Noemí to save her from an unknown horror. Noemí heads to High Place, a dark and eerie Gothic mansion in the Mexican countryside. Little does she know what she is about to uncover.
Noemí takes the stage as an unexpected heroine. She plays a noncommittal debutant who switches her college major almost as frequently as she drops suitors. Her chic gowns and glossy lipstick appear more fit for a life of glamorous parties than a seemingly haunted mansion. But it is clear from the start of the novel that Noemí is also an intelligent, nosey woman, talented in unearthing secrets. She will do anything to protect her cousin.
She finds High Place filled with mysteries and horrors, such as the elderly patriarch who ogles her and the old cemetery in the backyard. The hostess keeps an ever-watchful eye on her, and Catalina’s husband exudes a foreboding presence. Haunting portraits decorate the walls, mold grows in corners and servants maintain a sinisterly poised composition.
In a harkening back to Shirley Jackson’s classic Haunting of Hill House, the house itself seems to have its own persona. It invades Noemí’s dreams with visions of gore and violence, and it seems to observe her every move.
The descriptions of the house as a stately Victorian manner play on Catalina’s love for romance novels such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. Catalina has found her brooding Mr. Darcy and his Gothic mansion, but can she and Noemí survive the horrors it contains?
While the family members keep Catalina under strict surveillance, Noemí’s only friend is the youngest son in the family. He appears to want to assist Noemí in recovering her cousin, but he struggles to discern where his true loyalties lie.
Many mysteries lay buried in High Place. The family’s colossal fortune was built upon the backs of miners, none of whom survived; madness and violence mar the family’s history; and no one has ever escaped the house alive.
As Noemí tries to draw out the secrets of High Place, she finds herself slowly being held captive by its daunting power. She is both haunted by and drawn to the cryptic house.
With Mexican Gothic, Moreno-Garcia attacks the period romance genre and flips it on its head. The book’s feminist use of a heroine in a Victorian mansion is a dark parallel to the Elizabethan romances in which a wealthy estate-owning man saves the female protagonist.
In Mexican Gothic, Moreno-Garcia writes a breath-taking thriller that can be read in a single session. She builds a mystery that the reader uncovers along with Noemí, but upon looking back, the reader can see that the explanations make perfect sense. The ending is shockingly delicious to fans of the genre and will dwell with readers for days afterwards.
S.G. Smith is an undergraduate student studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing at The Ohio State University. Her work has been published in The Journal and Flash Fiction Magazine, and she is the second place recipient of the university’s Jacobson Short Story Award.