Chosen by Paul Burke

My favourite book of 2020 has to be Mexican Gothic because it was the book that surprised and delighted me the most this year. I had no expectations when the publisher sent it to me but I’m so glad I read it. I might not have if it weren’t for a recommendation of a critic I trust for another of Moreno-Garcia’s books, Untamed shore; that’s what made me pay attention to this novel. I didn’t know the young Mexican/American author at all and I’m not really a big fan of the modern gothic tale but it’s healthy to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while, isn’t it? Reviewing has taught me you never know what you’ll like because it’s not the subject but the quality of the writing that often matters.

It was love at first sight with this book; I soon realized that Moreno-Garcia was an exceptional storyteller, the writing was seductive and poetic and yet she managed to create an atmosphere of tension and apprehension right from the first page. This genre bending nightmarish tale borders, but never quite strays into horror; it is a seductive and beautiful read. The novel is steeped in the tones and themes of the Victorian gothic tale and this is a very clever pastiche with very modern sensibilities. Moreno-Garcia enjoys infusing gothic tropes with contemporary meaning, that’s not unusual but this has an original feel.

A creepy sense of decay and rot emanate from the pages, as buried secrets and the profound darkness of the Doyle household threaten the two young women at the heart of the story, leaving readers with a growing unease. This novel reminds me of The Fingersmith, the nightmarish world of the victims and the psychological manipulation, sexism and misogyny of the villains. Moreno-Garcia has transported the story to 1950s Mexico; it allows her to explore themes of colonialism and paternalism, encompassing the big topics of race, ethnicity, identity, class and money.

Orphaned heiress Catalina writes her former guardian, her uncle, to say that her new husband is trying to kill her. Noemí, her cousin, is despatched to the remote Doyle estate to find out what is going on. Is Catalina ill, is her husband about to kill her or is there something even more sinister going on? Noemí is soon aware that the Doyle household is strange and that she and her cousin are in danger – soon she will be questioning her own sanity. It sounds dark and chilling but Mexican Gothic is delicious and Noemí is a feisty, intelligent and loveable protagonist. A well crafted plot just oozes danger and excitement. A superb fireside evening read, though maybe you won’t want to be alone with this book?

Publisher: Jo Fletcher, Quercus
Date of Publication: 30/6/20
ISBN 13: 9781529402650
Edition: Hardback