I would have enjoyed Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia even if I hadn’t taken a Transatlantic Romance lit class in grad school this spring, but man, it sure gelled how well researched and thoughtful this book is. I’d seen the novel popping up all over social media this past winter and spring, and I filed it away for a later read. Well, later came and I loved it.
Some of the perfect gothic elements that Moreno-Garcia used were ghosts, women in some state of turmoil or danger at the hands of some lecherous old man, the past coming back to haunt the mishandling of the present, and homes in ruin. I’m thinking primarily of the classic The Castle Otranto by Horace Walpole. Mexican Gothic is such an excellent modern take on this tale. Including being trapped in a home you can’t escape. She went so far as to bring the dirt from England to Mexico to carry and connect that tradition to its history. So friggin smart.
Along with that, she has the ruin of the landscape, also a theme in much of the gothic tales. The using up of both the locals/human resources and nature/silver mine. The constant chill, fog, rain, and the road falling apart give the feeling of nature reacting to the things being off around this family that doesn’t belong.
The main character Neomi Taboada is such a fantastic way to bring modernity and new perspectives into the gothic genre. Her doubt, her pushing back against the family’s odd rules, as well as the decrepit patriarch, are a vibrant breath of fresh air in the mushroom-coated and mildewed old home. If you read the book, you know all about the mushrooms.
I don’t want to say too much about the story because it’s such a wonderful unfolding and discovery process for the reader. But that’s also part of what makes an excellent gothic novel—the unfolding of whatever’s creating the disturbance.
The only classic element missing in this book from those earlier, more traditional styles is that it is not introduced as a found document. When the idea of historical fiction first came on the scene, it was often presented as a discovered manuscript. The idea of fiction being about that past was a new concept, and giving it a source provided some validity and grounding to the story.
At the moment, I’m reading The Bad Sister by Emma Tennant. It’s a contemporary reimagining of The Private Memoir and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. Taking the old Scottish tale of brother against brother and making it sister vs. sister. Both books address the political issues of their timeframe and use traditional gothic elements as well. My husband was reading about the book Private Memoir because I was so enamored by it during the class, and he discovered Tennant’s novel. It was so cool that he was able to track down a copy.
Check out my Reading Corner page if you want to see what I’m reading or for ideas to add to your list. I’m always open to suggestions for books to add to my pile.