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by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey, June 2020
307 pages
ISBN: 0525620788

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This gothic tale includes many of the tropes of a good gothic story: an old crumbling house, isolation, a confusion of reality and unreality, disease, superstition, dreams and nightmares, a bit of eroticism, magic, aristocracy, and the afterlife. And, while ghosts and the supernatural are not required in gothic literature, they exist between the covers of this book as they do in many classics. There is an intersection of science and dark fantasy in MEXICAN GOTHIC, as well as reminders of other well-known gothic stories, especially the 19th century THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

As in that story, the wallpaper plays a major role, though in Moreno-Garcia’s world it is green. Mold, mildew, and a woman trapped behind the wallpaper serve a variety of purposes. The wallpaper is one of the first things noticed by Noemi, who is sent to a crumbling rural estate in the mountains of Mexico to help save her cousin from imprisonment by her husband, the older son of the family. At first, she is reminded of the arsenic that created the green color in old wallpapers, but as the story progresses, the green takes on an even more sinister meaning.

She receives warnings from both her cousin and the youngest son of the manor about the wallpaper, about the woman in the walls, and about the various drinks with strange flavors. This is the 1950s, and she is a city socialite, so perhaps she can be forgiven for ignoring that advice and believing that the strange habits of the family living in the house with no electricity and precious little heat are nothing more than "country ways." However, the longer she is at the old mansion, the more her dreams and nightmares seem to become frightening glimpses into the past, and the greater Noemi's sense of dread. When she meets the decrepit patriarch of the family, who talks of eugenics and a desire to create a perfect race, she starts to wonder whether she will ever be allowed to leave, with or without her cousin.

The distinctly dark atmosphere of the book builds, along with a nightmare-like quality, to a crescendo at the end. This made it nearly impossible to put the book down, but it also felt over the top in an H.P. Lovecraft sort of way. The book morphed from a gothic mystery at the beginning to gothic horror at the end. There is enough science referenced as Noemi enters the world of the old manor that the reader might hope that the explanation for the increasingly bizarre events will lie there, but those hopes are dashed by the end of the book.

The writing is highly descriptive, and the house functions almost like a character. The nightmare sequences disorient the reader as well as Noemi, adding to the creepy atmosphere. For lovers of gothic literature, there are all those tropes to be found and appreciated, and it is amusing to see how plot elements from well-known gothic stories are altered and incorporated. Reading this book is an immersive experience, and I would recommend reading it in a room without wallpaper. Ultimately, though, I felt as though Moreno-Garcia took it all just a little too far.

§ Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, October 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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