Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Terrifying Gothic Tale

The author of Mexican Gothic on finding inspiration in film and creating space for women of color in literature

Silvia Moreno-Garcia Interview
By Kathryn Monaco
Jul 16 2020

Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s most recent novel takes place in an isolated mansion in 1950s Mexico. Noemí arrives to save her cousin after receiving a frantic letter. This brave and glamorous socialite-turned-detective takes us on her journey to uncover the treacherous secrets that live between the walls, without knowing exactly who to trust.

Kathryn Monaco: Mexican Gothic has everything readers look for in a Gothic novel but also subverts these tropes in surprising and refreshing ways. What do you love about the genre, and what did you want to change for future writers?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Domestic noirs, modern horror novels and romance novels all owe some genetic material courtesy of Gothic novels. They contain big, recognizable dramatic elements and stock characters. The brooding, Byronic hero. The young woman in danger. The magnificent location (be it a mansion, castle, etc). There was a whole mini-industry of romantic Gothic novels in paperback throughout the 1960s, but it then all went away, partially because tastes changed. As a Latin American woman, those Gothic novels were seldom a space that featured anyone like me, no women of color. If they did have one, it was a minor character, such as Zélie, the mixed-race daughter of a Black woman and a Mohican man who appears in Dragonwyck. Or perhaps the mad wife in the attic Rochester keeps locked up, who is not a woman of color, but because she came from the Caribbean, she is imbued with ideas about degeneration tied to location and injured whiteness. Mexican Gothic places a Latin American woman in the midst of a Gothic narrative and twists everything a little.

Mexican Gothic places a Latin American woman in the midst of a Gothic narrative and twists everything a little.

KM: The majority of the novel takes place in a decaying English manor in Mexico, with the Doyles’ racist and sexist comments mirroring a dark history. Could you share why you placed Noemí in this setting?

SMG: There’s a real life town in Mexico called Real del Monte that was mined for silver by the British in the 19th century. It comes with its very own English cemetery. I was fascinated by this location when I visited it and I thought it made an interesting and little-known tidbit of history.

KM: Noemí has alarming conversations about natural selection with the Doyles. Why did you incorporate eugenics into the story, and do you believe the history of eugenics has implications for today?

SMG: You probably don’t realize it, but when you say “survival of the fittest,” that phrase was coined by an eugenicist, Herbert Spencer. Spencer said in 1876 that “the half caste, inheriting from one line of ancestry proclivities adapted to one set of institutions, and from the other line of ancestry proclivities adapted to another set of institutions, is not fitted for either.” He was that kind of charming fellow. But eugenics did not die off in the 1800s. Ideas about miscegenation were still rampant well into the 20th century. In the USA, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, spurred by eugenics concerns, was designed to halt the immigration of supposedly “dysgenic” people. It’s exactly the same kind of talk you hear nowadays about how certain immigrants are undesirable due to the nature of their ethnic background.

KM: Noemí displays such courage, independence, and confidence throughout the novel. However, there are limitations she faces not only within High Place, but also in society during this time period. What did you hope readers will take away from reading and rooting for a character like Noemí?

SMG: Noemí is a privileged young woman. She has access to money and a certain social status. But it’s 1950 in this story. Women in Mexico wouldn’t get the vote until a few years later. There are certain limits she has due to being a woman. And there are certain things that haven’t changed. That is why people use the word ‘gaslight’ for a reason: it’s hard to be believed as a woman.

KM: The novel includes wonderful details about Noemí’s dresses as well her hobbies and lifestyle in Mexico City. What was your process like for researching this time period?

SMG: There are a lot of really good fashion history resources online nowadays. I follow some people on Twitter who are fashion historians, but also many museums have collections and information online. Movies are also very useful for getting a feel of what clothes looked like in motion. You can watch Audrey Hepburn or Miroslava and have an idea of what clothes might have looked like on a body.

Learn more about Noemí’s fashion in the Mexican Gothic book club kid’s paper doll guide.

KM: Were there specific books or films you drew from as inspiration for this novel?

SMG: My protagonist is named in honour of Carlos Enrique Taboada, the Mexican film director of a cycle of Gothic films. Taboada was probably the inspiration of Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy and horror films but he’s not well known outside of Mexico even though he made some magnificent horror films. And I have read a whole slew of Gothic novels, too many to list. 

Discover more pulse-pounding summer reads here and browse other Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novels below.

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
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Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
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