This was a rather disturbing read, to be honest. I think it needs a trigger warning: there is drug use, rape, cults, suicide … but the imagery is beautiful, and the symbolism is on-point. The pictures that Moreno-García paints are stunning, vivid, magical. The world building is beautiful, but the magic system was, admittedly, strange. Even though it was a bit of my comfort zone at times, I really enjoyed the story.
Mexican Gothic takes us back in time to an old-fashioned world, where women are painted as mercurial and melodramatic, and expected to “mind [their] words and learn [their] place”. In an old house darkened by rotting memories, the inhabitants desperately cling to the past. But Noemí Taboada is a modern woman, a bright light, and she will do anything in her power to save her cousin Catalina from wasting away into the darkness. But is she strong enough to save Catalina from the gloom that engulfs High Hill?
With Mexican Gothic, Moreno-García used many traditional horror tropes in unique and interesting ways. I don’t want to give too much away, because above all, it was a great mystery. I think it is rare that a book actually keeps you guessing for so long. There are lots of hints and hidden symbols in the text, but not so blatant as to give away the ending. I don’t read many mysteries but this was one that I truly enjoyed puzzling out. But, instead of spoiling the ending, I am going to delve into analyzing some of the fortune-telling symbols I found throughout the story.
The occult was a driving element in this story, which is a theme I love finding in books. This one was steeped in historically arcane traditions, helping to lend an authenticity to the magic system created by Moreno-García.
Belief in the ‘Evil Eye‘ stretches back centuries and worldwide. Cultures across the world have their own explanations and beliefs surrounding the Evil Eye, but the basic idea remains the same. Many maintain that the evil eye is a curse cast by a malevolent or jealous glare, usually upon an unaware victim. It also refers to talismans or amulets that are meant to protect the wearer from receiving the misfortune or injuries directed by malevolent glares. In Latin America and Spain, the ‘Mal de Ojo‘ is deeply embedded in popular culture. There are traditional folk cures that involve red ribbons or raw chicken eggs, but the most popular ward is a charm that can be worn, carried, or hung inside the home. There are various designs, but the ones worn by Noemí and Catalina may look like the one pictured above.
The infinite, above us, and below.
I am in love with using the classic haunted house as a metaphor for how the patriarchy oppresses everyone and everything. But Moreno-García went even further to address this by using an ouroboros as sort of family crest. The ancient symbol of the snake eating its own tail is often interpreted as a symbol for eternal cyclic renewal or a cycle of life, death, and rebirth; the skin-sloughing process symbolizes the transmutation of souls. At the same time, there are implications of male/female fertility, with the circle symbolizing a womb and the snake a phallic symbol. This was an interesting choice to use to represent the patriarch of the house. In reality, oppressive systems are the real ouroboros’, feeding on the compulsion of men and the possession of women.
In palmistry, each finger has a meaning. The Amber ring that Virgil wears on his pointer finger could represent the control he assumes over others. As a healing crystal, Amber is an excellent stone for discharging negative moods, relieving anxiety, or deflecting energy from others. You can use Amber to purify any environment, or to remove negative energy from a space, which is perfectly appropriate for Virgil. Coupled with being worn on his index finger (which, in palmistry, rules your capacity for leadership) this ring is very useful for helping Virgil to not only control his energies, but the energies of those around him.
And the tarot readings were my favorite part! The first, when Noemí knocks over the deck of cards and gets an accidental one-card reading: the Knave of Coins. In a traditional tarot deck it would be called a Page of Pentacles. The suit of Pentacles is associated with the element Earth, but on a more esoteric level is associated with the ego, self-esteem and self-image. The youth holding the pentacle in this card is attempting to balance his coin, which could represent the need for a methodical approach when dealing with a crisis, financially or mentally.
The second reading was a typical three-card past/present/future style reading: the Knight of Swords, the Page of Coins (again), and finally the Ace of Cups. The Knight of Swords could reference the past obstacles and challenges faced at High Hill. The battle-ready knight symbolizes just that, you must meet the unavoidable conflict to come. The Page of Pentacles is drawn a second time for Noemí, reinforcing advice for dealing with her current crisis. The final card, the Ace of Cups, may foreshadow Noemí’s future: “a single, empty cup.” Reversed, this cup may seem half-empty to Noemí … but can she turn it all around to see the glass as half full?
… she didn’t like this detail. It blended reality and fantasy together. It unnerved her …
Light and darkness was another heavy theme throughout the book. There was a constant play between dark and light, the wicked and the divine. There were some beautiful dichotomies created, the constant battle between shadow and light helps to blur the boundary between dreams and reality. I think this will make for some stunning visuals in the upcoming Hulu adaptation! Eeeeek!
After all, nothing in this place is what it seemed. There were secrets upon secrets.
I don’t read many horror mysteries, but I liked what the author did with Gods of Jade and Shadow, and I have seen so much hype around this book! It spent an impressive 31 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list, and the novel has been so successful that it will soon be coming to the little screen with the go-ahead to adapt it as a Hulu original series. If you are looking for a creepy House of Leaves/The Yellow Wallpaper style read for Halloween, this one is perfect.