Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Should have read it sooner!
This has been one of the most anticipated horror novels of 2020, so I am a day late and a dollar short yet again. From the title and description, I expected to read a fairly classical Gothic tale, with the Mexican culture transposed and a spooky feel. This gothic expectation was partly fulfilled, though there is a lot more going on in this book than the established tropes of the Gothic genre.
The important thing to know about this book is that, though it is a horror novel, the horror elements are fairly understated throughout most of the book. It is very much a slow-burn story, allowing the reader time to gradually get to know the characters and the setting before delivering its climax. On many levels, this is effective, though I do think the pacing is a little off. I do not mind a slow burn of a story, but after an intriguing opening, the middle section seems to drag on a bit longer than it should in my honest opinion, offering small bits of information about the horrific mystery at the novel’s heart in small doses and in a way that does not particularly add to the story’s tension as much as I would have hoped. Once the stakes have been established early, these revelations do enrich the reader’s understanding, page by page, of what is really going on, but the pacing in the middle is so slow that it does not really add much to the story.
The slow-burn character of the novel does finally reverse itself in the final third or so of the book, when a final set of revelations come in rapid succession, building to a true climax. In fact, these climactic revelations seem to come a bit too rapidly, once again short-changing dramatic tension in favor of bringing the plot closer to its conclusion. The novel’s pacing could have been better had the revelations built more gradually to a buildup.
Issues with pacing aside, I found it overall to be an enjoyable read. The reader will have no trouble liking or disliking the characters according to how the author means them to be viewed. While some characters are better-developed than others, they do provide an interesting ensemble. The writing style occasionally veers toward the wordy or “flowery,” but always stops just short of the point at which it becomes too much, giving the book a haunting, almost meditative sort of characteristic.
Endings in horror are often difficult to get right because once one knows what the evil actually is, it immediately loses much of its power to terrify. Undeniably, the revelation of this novel’s big bad strains the limits of the willing suspension of disbelief a bit, but it nevertheless leads to an ending that is more satisfying than I expected. Glad I read it honestly wish I would have read it sooner. Four-stars all around I cannot wait to see what comes next for this author.
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