Flash Review – Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic sounds perfect; a feminist heroine in the 1950s trying to solve an ancient mystery, saving her cousin in the process. Here's a spoiler: this is not a perfect book.

So, I recently read another book that was recommended to me on Instagram. I’m part of the book lover community over there, charmingly called Bookstagram, because I like knowing I’m not the only book nerd in the world. While I have occasionally added a glorious book to my collection because my fellow bookworms kept sharing it, Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia really was not the book for me. In fact, reading this book made me doubt myself and my place on social media. Want to know why? Read on!

Mexican Gothic is about the beautiful socialite Noemí, who travels to her cousin Catalina, who lives in a small town and says her husband is poisoning her. Strong, independent Noemí feels from the moment she arrives that something is amiss, and is determined to get to the bottom of things. Her cousin’s new family, the British Doyles, is desperate to keep their ancient, bloody secret hidden from Noemí, but she’s too clever for all of them.

Not only is she too clever: Noemí is also beautiful, determined, independent, and feminist – and all of that in the 1950s. My Bookstagram buddies praised her character, but I felt like it was all a bit too much. Nor did she change much throughout the course of the novel, so she went from perfect to staying exactly the same amount of perfect (I guess her process would be called a character line instead of a character arch). The other characters are likewise flat as a board; all the Doyle family members are handsome yet purely evil, apart from Francis, who isn’t good looking but instead very kind. And then there’s Catalina, Noemí’s weak cousin, whose tendency to swoon and have nightmares seems to have been pulled straight from a nineteenth-century novel.

Straight from the start Moreno-Garcia’s source material is obvious; Mexican Gothic is a pastiche of the traditional Gothic novel (hardly surprising, judging from the title – yet Catalina would probably swoon when she realised this), fairy tales, and Mexican lore, but in a slightly more modern setting, even though there is no particular reason for this novel to take place during the 1950s. As a result, Mexican Gothic sometimes seems confused as to which message it’s trying to convey; is it trying to echo the great Gothic Novels of old, or is it desperate to add a modern, feminist flavour to it? These two contrasting ideas cause the plot to be quite unhinged at times.

All the ingredients for a proper Gothic novel seem to be there: a damsel in distress, a strong hero(ine), an abandoned castle, an evil family, an ancient secret, a dark atmosphere, and a constant feeling of dread. However, one really has to know what they’re doing when attempting to write a Gothic novel, since they can become quite cliché quite quickly. And when that happens, well, they might up like Mexican Gothic. It was a pile of clichés, in a cliché setting, with cliché characters and a cliché ending. I only read it because I wanted to know whether I would actually be surprised by the end of the novel, hoping there would be some amazing plot twist I didn’t see coming.

And let’s be honest here: I really did not anticipate what would happen at the end of the novel. But this time it isn’t a compliment to the author; the ending of Mexican Gothic is so odd that it fails to make sense completely. Listen carefully, because here it is: somehow there is still a family member left, whom everyone thought had died, chucked away in a cellar, and then, without a moment’s doubt, they kill her. And then they burn the place down and run away. Does it make sense to you? Well, it doesn’t to me. Oh, and beautiful Noemí and ugly Francis fall in love. Now I did see that one coming, but I was hoping it wouldn’t happen.

Mexican Gothic is one of those books that I complained about while reading (here‘s another one). I groaned, laughed bitterly, and kept saying out loud how unbelievably bad it was, feeling this novel was insulting my intelligence. Someone should have recorded me, so people could listen to me live-reviewing the book, instead of listening to the audio book. Now there’s an idea! I should try it out on Bookstagram and find out what the community thinks of it!

Actually, I’m not sure about Bookstagram anymore. The more I scroll the book-related hashtags, the more I realise that most of the books mentioned are simple, finish-within-a-day novels. While I don’t object to uncomplicated novels from time to time, I love reading because it challenges me to think long and hard about what’s going, and how it affects my own life. I know I am at risk of sounding snobbish, but I don’t really care about seeing posts abou yet another review of a book, saying it was “the best book ever”, and moving on with the next, identical book, and saying that one was the best one, too.

I joined the Bookstagram community because I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be part of a group of people who liked the same things as I do and whom I could talk with about my favourite subject. I wanted to make sure my loved ones wouldn’t have to listen to me talk about books all day. Well, that backfired.

I now spend my days talking to them about the dreadful books that were recommended to me on Bookstagram.

What did you think of Mexican Gothic? What’s your favourite Gothic novel? Have you ever been truly disappointed by a book that was recommended to you? Do you think there are any truly great places out there for all those bookworms like me? Please let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts. Oh, and come join me on Bookstagram! Together, we’ll start a community for people like us! Everyone will love it! And they will post all about their favourite books, and they will recommend us nice books, and … Oh, I see what went wrong, there.

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