‘Mexican Gothic’ and Decay

‘Mexican Gothic’ was published in 2020 and was written by Silvio Moreno-Garcia. Upon its publication its popularity quickly soared, and many likened the novel to the works of Guillermo del Toro and Daphne du Maurier.

The novel opens with young heroine Noemí receiving a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina. Catalina fears that her husband, Virgil Doyle, is trying to poison her. Noemí flies to her cousins’ aid, and discovers at the Doyle’s household, High Place, a multitude of secrets.

The beginning of the novel pays homage to many of the original Gothic classics. Noemí likens High Place to an ‘abandoned shell of a snail,’ implying that the Doyle household is desolate, and has been forgotten by civilisation.[1] A snail shell is also fragile, perhaps a reference to Catalina’s fragile state of mind. It also might foreshadow the Doyle’s downfall at the end of the novel. Their position is not secure. The atmosphere of High Place is cold and unwelcoming, setting the scene for an eerie Gothic tale. At High Place, Noemí goes on to uncover a family curse, a history of incest and a deadly mycelium that has infested High Place and the Doyle family themselves. It is this that they use to stay alive. At the end of the novel it is revealed that the fungus can store memories and preserve the family history. This explains why the family intermarry, as to not pollute their bloodline and strengthen their own connection with the fungus. Before the truth about the fungus is uncovered, it is clear from the start that High Place, and its inhabitants are rotting from the inside.

It is noticed that Catalina is ‘ravaged by disease.’[2] While it is clear that Catalina is ill, the aggressive nature of the word ‘ravaged’ emphasises her fragility, and the violence of her illness. While she is ravaged by disease, whilst inspecting the library, Noemí notes that a book is ‘ravaged my mould.’[3] It seems, in High Place, that the superior power is bacteria or fungus. Nothing else can stand in its way, animate or inanimate objects are rendered helpless in the face of it. As the story deepens Noemí concludes that everything that the family touches ‘rots.’[4] Although she does not yet know that the family control this fungus for their own ends, it seems that she is beginning to associate the family with decay, not just the conditions of High Place itself.

Following on with this theme, during one her dreams, Noemí imagines that she is being regarded by Virgil, like a ‘butterfly pinned to a velvet cloth.’[5] Virgil is clearly controlling Catalina, and her status as a pinned butterfly references the ongoing conflict between man and nature. In this instance, the Doyle’s are winning this battle, as they control the fungus, and in this specific example, Virgil controls Noemí. She has supplanted Catalina as Virgil’s muse, and her helpless state foreshadows the growing danger that she faces at the hands of the family. She is being watched, and being acted upon in this scenario, as she is being acted upon by the fungus, even though she doesn’t know it.

An interesting image, which is present throughout the novel is the ouroboros. It is essentially the image of a snake that is eating its tail, it serves as the family emblem. The image itself appears to allude to self-destruction, as the snake is ingesting itself. The Doyle family, while using the fungus to stay alive, also destroy themselves to do it, sacrificing family members to the deadly fungus over the centuries. The snake’s self-ingestion may also allude to the history of incest within the family, a trick used by the Doyle’s to ensure their compatibility with the fungus, which is well suited to their bloodline. The infinite nature of the snake alludes to the enduring nature of the fungus and the immortality of the Doyle family.

When the truth is finally revealed, so is the irony of the situation. At the end of the novel Howard is essentially rotting away:

‘His skin was terribly pale… boils… emaciated… boils grew, as thick as barnacles… a corpse afflicted by the ravages of putrefaction, but he lived.’[6]

Howard plans, with the help of the fungus, to take over the body of Francis. In this description, again, the idea of being ravaged comes up, and it appears that Howard is afflicted with some kind of disease akin to the plague. After inhabiting the body of Francis, he plans to marry Noemí to continue the family bloodline. It is ironic that the family’s desire for self-preservation involves their own physical pain and decay. They sacrificed their own family member, Agnes, to host the fungus. Their immortality comes at a great price, and requires them to turn on each other, turn away from reality and from civilisation. Amongst all this destruction, it is further destruction that destroys the family and frees Noemí from the fungus. Agnes’ body is set on fire, and as the host, her demise weakens the family’s connection with the fungus.

At the end of the novel, Francis worries that he may still be infected with the fungus, having been exposed to it for a long time. Noemí assures him that together, they can persevere. A union between Noemí and Francis is hinted at, but not the one that Howard had imagined. Noemí in the novel is representative of the outside world, and it is her influence that saved Francis from his corrupt family. It was she who dragged him away from them and into the outside world. Out of the darkness of High Place, and into the light.

Thanks for reading!

[1] Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic (London, Jo Fletcher Books, 2020), p. 21.

[2] Ibid., p. 24.

[3] Ibid., p. 38.

[4] Ibid., p. 69.

[5] Ibid., p. 80.

[6] Ibid., p. 203.

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: