I mean---I'm fine being wrong. I know people love this book. I'd intended to love it too. It's deliberately following a trail laid down by Wuthering Heights and Rebecca and "The Yellow Wallpaper," and it's not short on interesting ideas and characters and places with potential, but egad it's sloppy. Where are America's editors?? I feel the way the way I felt reading Twilight: like a writer with potential is not reaching her potential because no one is helping her grow. At least Silvia Moreno-Garcia hasn't blown up to such a size that everyone knows her name and most of them feel obliged to hate her. So maybe there's still hope.
This book takes place c. 1950 in Mexico City and (mostly) a house at the top of a mountain next to an abandoned silver mine. That house is inhabited by a pale and fallow English family and our protag is a wealthy young dark-skinned Mexican socialite who is visiting to check in on her once-vibrant cousin who has been wasting away following her marriage to this family's heir. Promising stuff.
Noemí is that main character and she's a checklist. In addition to being wealthy, a good dresser, beautiful, witty, a skilled flirt, etc; she is also a polymath who can rattle off precise facts in multiple fields and possessor of a Green Lantern-level of will. I don't mind this level of Mary Sueing, but somehow this pampered Daddy's girl also has the capacity to spend all day polishing silver and to do it well. She, though wealthy and privileged, has deep connections to and comfort with people at all levels of society, servants for instance, but also poor villagers whom she seems never to have seen before this trip. And they (at least the non-English ones) seem pretty accepting of her, too. Okay.
The old house has very little electricity and not enough lightbulbs so we are forced to use candles and oil lamps (#atmosphere) but at the end, when a tiny, barely visited pantry needs light, there's a functioning lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Which pantry only exists because we walked down a back staircase, suddenly revealed when our characters suddenly need a previously hidden back staircase to exist.
And here we get to an embarrassing admission. I had such a hard time reading this book that the day of the faculty book club I'm still not halfway through so I skipped to the end and read the conclusion. I was hoping that the conclusion would inspire me to go back and read the rest (some people always read books this way which I, I just, I can't...), but no. The people still didn't talk like people. They talked like a parody of silent-film intertitles.
Other complaints include the abuse of what's pretending to be third-person limited, and the addition of details because probably the audience is too stupid to recognize, for instance, the effects of colonialism when they see them.
The book did not do well being read alongside my classes reading Pride and Prejudice. Austen famously wrote that she did "not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves." And when you read Austen, yes, you feel respected. You feel like she expects you to be smart and if not, well, you can still enjoy the happy ending.
Mexican Gothic felt very much like it was written to dull elves. You have terrific potential with your setting and characters, but then you write a book afraid your audience isn't bright enough to see what cool things you have. And so your book is like a series of Instagram posts---cool little bits, one after another, instead of a coherent novel filled with rich characters we care about who grow and develop and discover and earn their happy ending.
I'm so bummed.
But here's a maybe-a-bright-side:
Perhaps what we have here is evidence that some publishing houses are sticking with authors while they learn. The fact that this author's books sell makes me doubt that. But I hope it's not entirely untrue.
But what I think is more likely is that this is part of the YAification of adult fiction. I don't mean this as a slight against YA fiction, but it makes sense that fiction aimed at a YA audience would do more handholding. But there is so much YA fiction now, that it's possible to be an avid reader and yet make it to adulthood without ever exhausting your library's YA holdings. And so you never leave that corner, which, for all the good stuff on those shelves, let's not pretend isn't limiting.
One thing I appreciate about Mexican Gothic is the author wears her influences on her sleeves. It's such a love letter that some books (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre) are even mentioned within the novel. So I hope that it takes readers to the Brontës and beyond, and that we start to see that reflected back in new novels.
Anyway. The point is I hope I'm wrong about this book and that you all vehemently disagree with me.