Review: Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I'm not going to go so far as to say this was a bad book - I am however going to go so far as to say that this was a messy book, one that perhaps needed a better editor or a few more drafts before it was published.
Mainly, my issues with this book come down to two separate things: the pacing and the shift from run-of-the-mill gothic retelling to supernatural. The other bits of this book - the writing, the dialogue, the characterisation - I thought was fine; I enjoyed it without necessarily loving it, or thinking it was quite worth the hype I saw it get, which is why I am classifying this as a review that is neither bad nor recommended.
A very brief plot summary (I am quite bad at remembering that, actually, you have not yet actually read this book and are using my opinion to determine if you should and so therefore don't know what it's about until I tell you): Noemí's cousin Catalina married a weird English dude named Virgil; she lives in a creepy house; she sends a letter to Noemí's dad that is basically very The Yellow Wallpaper. She thinks she's being poisoned; she thinks she's going crazy; she needs help. Noemí goes up to High Place, the name of the house, and finds out that yeah, actually, everything is deeply bonkers and something profoundly weird is going on. There's a lot of racism and eugenics.
So, let's dig into the pacing question a bit then. I rarely say this about books, but I think this one maybe could have been 60-70 pages longer, to allow the big emotional beats and the transitions to develop and stretch out a bit more fully, instead of the reader being hit with it, and immediately moved onto the next bit of the narrative without really having the time or space to process what had just happened.
And this weird shift was never more obvious than when it went from being a straight run of the mill gothic retelling to being like, a proper supernatural thriller. Basically, the supernatural bit just got thrown into the book with very little of the groundwork done, and absolutely no explanation of how this supernatural entity actually came to be. We found out about it at the same time as Noemí did, and then immediately moved into accepting it as given and its impact on the rest of the plot with no explanation of how it had come to be, no world-building about the limits and parameters of this new plot point, and then we are sent on a merry little way. And, reader, this annoyed me deeply. It was sloppy, and lazy, and it seemed a bit like it was included in the plot because Silvia Moreno-Garcia went "oh, yes, this might be fun" but she hadn't done any of the legwork or the necessary writing in the first half of the novel to actually make that plot twist feel earned, or to reach a satisfactory pay off for it by the end.
It's hard for me to get into a book when I feel like the pacing of it is choppy, and that is the main adjective I can think of for the narrative thrust of this novel. The idea was good, and I like the idea of the plot twist - I just wish she hadn't tried to split the difference between a Gothic novel and a supernatural one. Her supernatural story was, in my opinion, more original than the Gothic retelling and I think if she had just decided to do that from the first, and done the story and writing work necessary to make it good, I would have really liked this novel. As it is it just felt a bit like this novel was unpolished, and could have gone through a few more drafts.
But I liked the originality of her premise, and her writing is enjoyable without being too difficult, so I'm going to pick up some of her books and hope that her grasp of the craft improves - or that she gets a better editor.