*THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*
How I came by Mexican Gothic
I saw this book on a couple of bookstagram accounts that I admire and took note. It did not disappoint!
The book flows very well. It’s an easy read. I would say it was pleasant too, even though it was gothic. I read the whole book in a day! I really loved it and it reminded me of the Fear Street series (R.L Stein), The Vampire Lestat (Anne Rice) and the film Get Out (Jordan Peele).
I won’t give away too much away of the plot, even though there will be spoilers in the next section. The novel is set in 1950s Mexico, which is pretty cool. The novel’s protagonist, Noemí, receives a letter from her distressed cousin Catalina. In the letter, Catalina insists that her husband, whom she married only months ago, is trying to poison her and that she cannot leave the house, which is full of rot…and ghosts. Noemí’s father sends her to check up on her cousin. Noemí travels to the small country town and stays with her’s cousin’s in-laws til the end of the novel. The longer she stays with them, in the old English mansion (High Place) they live in, more bizarre occurrences take place and the harder it is for her to leave. Things eventually start to unravel, leading to a satisfying climax and resolution to the plot. There are alliances and romances formed along the way.
A Commentary on Race/Class/Colonisation
There a lot of themes that I could discuss, but I’m going to focus mainly on the commentary on race and colonialism within the novel. Before that, however, I will mention Noemí’s journey from the glitz and glamour of high society to the rot of the Doyle Manor. Noemí is a character who is very beautiful and constantly bored. As a young adult, she can barely commit to anything long enough, whether it be a career path, university degree, or man. She’s had a lot handed to her, but she is smart. And fierce. And she doesn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer. Her journey throughout the novel sees Noemí mature and learn how to sit in boredom (there’s not much to do in the mansion, and how to practice diplomacy. Thankfully, she remains witty throughout.
I’m not surprised that this novel would present a commentary on race and colonisation – the history of ethnic peoples and natives is literally full of horror.
The Doyles are originally form England – they are all fair and blue eyed and look very similar. Their mansion – High Place – is situated above the town, as far away as they could get from the towns people. The Doyle Patriarch, as Noemí learns, has a fascination with anthropology, i.e, he is interested in genetics and races. We find out later in the novel that he’s interested in living forever and creating a kind of supreme race.
The novel discusses how the silver mine the Doyles used to run led to the mysterious deaths of hundreds of Mexican workers, that were buried in mass graves with no compensation to families. The workers rebelled at times, especially when led by the charismatic Benito, who also mysteriously vanished. The novel, by lacing events with supernatural elements, presents a thoughtful twist on the intersection of class, race and colonialism. The mushroom that provides the longevity of the Doyles is a metaphor of this intersection.
The mushroom allows Howard Doyle eternal life by allowing him to inhabit others. He must inhabit other’s bodies to live. Just as his money, his livelihood, and his prestige depends on the land of others, the silver (and thus wealth) it provides, and the sacrifice of hundreds of native workers, his life depends on the sacrifice of others (through giving him their bodies). These two realities – the nature in which the mushroom works and the realities of White enterprise in the New World – run parallel in the novel.
And finally, a word on the women in the novel. While the Doyle men, with the exception of Francis, see women either as a means to an end (Ruth and Florence) or exotic entertainment and a means to an end (Noemí and Catalina), sisterhood is a running theme within the novel. It is sisterhood that leads Noemí to High Place, in order to help her cousin. While Florence represents the woman who is complicit in violence and oppression, Ruth defies her own and helps Noemí and Catalina. And at the heart of the Doyle tragedy is a woman desperately sending signals out to the ether, for help.