I didn't like Mexican Gothic, but a lot of critics did
I didn’t like Mexican Gothic, but a lot of other people did. I was so excited about the premise: a gothic novel in 1950s Mexico! I thought, “maybe this will be sort of like a new twist on Jane Eyre.” Yeah, it wasn’t. I was disappointed.
Here is a list of some of the things I didn’t like about the book:
- The whole story just seemed… generic? It wasn’t very 1950s, and it wasn’t very Mexican. There were some creepy, inventive details – for example, the Doyle family carted soil over from England in order to ensure the efficacy of the mushrooms that make them immortal – but these interesting parts weren’t executed well and sort of fell flat amongst all of the other mediocre details.
- It was slow. I was wondering “where is this going?” for the first two-thirds of the book. All of the action happens in the last third. It wasn’t very satisfying as a reader.
- A lot of the characters and relationships seemed super underdeveloped, like they only existed to move the (mediocre!) plot along. The villains were all bad – no complexity. I guess this is the gothic way? But I guess I would have expected a modern take on the gothic novel to be a bit more ambiguous. Noemi, the protagonist, was an inconsistent character – she’s this rich socialite who studies anthropology, but oh no! She’s too outgoing and bounces from topic to topic! How dare she! It all seemed too “Rah! Rah! Feminism!” to me. She’s just not that complex, and she doesn’t have real flaws.
- Some really interesting threads got completely dropped. In the beginning of the book, there’s a lot of different moments where the book mentioned how Noemi’s dad runs a paint business and she’s really good at identifying paint colors and chemicals. I was like, “Ooh, this sounds cool and I bet it’s going to contribute to the twist at the end!” Nope. It didn’t have anything to do with anything.
- Sure, there was an undertone of racism and eugenics. This was interesting. This played a major part in the whole revelation at the end. But it was sprinkled throughout the beginning of the book in a rather heavy handed manner. (Noemi finds a book about eugenics on the bookcase…) I feel like this discussion of insidious racism could have been so complex and rewarding, but it felt flat and generic to me.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews comparing Mexican Gothic to Jane Eyre and Rebecca, two of my all-time favorites. I don’t think Mexican Gothic even approaches the brilliance of those two books.
A lot of critics loved this book, though:
- An NPR review described the book like this: “Set in Mexico in 1950, when women weren't yet allowed to vote, Mexican Gothic explores how, for its independent female characters, marriage threatens to be a premature burial.” See, doesn't that make the book sound so cool? Yet in my opinion, it didn't live up the high expectations these sorts of reviews gave me.
- A review from the Los Angeles Times said: “Moreno-Garcia works in a tradition in which chills and thrills tap into elemental cultural fears — runaway science, carnal passion. But to these she adds a more politically inflected horror, both ancient and timely: A racist will to power.” Ugh, but she makes this into its own sort of flat trope! So disappointing! It’s really not that political or controversial to say, “we shouldn’t do eugenics.”
While many Goodreads users predictably raved about how much they loved the book, some agreed with me, like the user Kim ~ It’s All About the Thrill: “They said yeah wait for it...Okay so it did pick up- at page 250. So the last 50 pages of the book was crammed full of weirdness.” But my favorite dissenting review is from Elle, who said: “what a dumb fucking book.”