Mexican Gothic is a gothic horror novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia that tells a story of the twisted search for immortality. It mixes horror, mystery, and romance.
Noemí is a young socialite in Mexico City. She was summoned home one evening by her father, who wanted her to go to the remote estate, High Place, to find out what was wrong with her cousin Catalina. Catalina recently married a man that the family did not approve of, and Noemí’s father was concerned by the rambling, confusing letter she sent about the house and her husband trying to poison her. He wanted Noemí to go and check on Catalina. She finally agreed after negotiating with her father that he would grant permission for her to pursue her masters if she is successful.
High Place is a strange place. When Noemí got there, she found a house in a state of disrepair and moldy after their silver mine closed down. The silver is plentiful but tarnished, the electricity unreliable and unavailable in many rooms, and white sheets cover the furniture in many of the rooms. The family symbol is an Ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail.
Noemí started to notice this symbol more and more in the house, including in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is an unusual place with a colored glass ceiling depicting the Ouroboros, the design mirrored on the floor as well. It was designed by Alice, Virgil’s mother.
Meeting the Doyles
The youngest person in High Place, about her age, was Francis. He lived with his mother Florence, his cousin Virgil, his grandfather Howard and their three servants. The family had immigrated to England and had a sense of racial superiority. On the very first night of Noemí’s stay, at dinner, Howard commented on her darkness and concepts of superiority and inferiority between the races. Noemí parried with him, trying not to show her displeasure at his eugenics beliefs.
The family ran a strict house with no talking during dinner. Noemí was served most meals in her room, and she was given little access to her cousin Catalina. She had lots of free time, but her anthropology books held very little interest. She and Francis struck up a kind of friendship. Although she didn’t find him attractive at first, he seemed taken with her and was a nice distraction. He had never been away from High Place and was curious about the outside world while seeming to think he could not experience it.
Checking on Catalina
Noemí was told that Catalina had tuberculosis, but she thought something else was wrong. A doctor visited each week to check on both Catalina and Howard. The family explained that Howard was old and often in pain. When she tried to speak to the doctor about Catalina, he wouldn’t entertain her questions.
Noemí rarely got to visit with Catalina, the explanation being that Catalina needed rest for her medicines to take effect. On one of their unsupervised visits, which were usually quite short, Catalina asked Noemí to get her a tincture from the healer, Marta, in town.
Noemí got permission from Virgil for a second opinion on Catalina’s diagnosis. Days later, she drove to town. The town was tiny and sleepy, haven’t seen better days. She managed to locate Marta, the healer who Catalina had gotten the previous bottle of tincture from, and also visited the doctor. The doctor had never been to High Place and seemed reluctant to go there, but he finally agreed.
When the doctor saw Catalina, she started behaving oddly. The doctor’s opinion was that she should see a psychiatrist; her symptoms didn’t seem to be those of tuberculosis.
Touched by Gloom
Noemí and Virgil disagreed on Catalina’s treatment. He chastised her for her insistent manner, and she was generally uncomfortable around him. She felt like a child in his presence and wondered how much he agreed with his father’s racial views. They rarely saw each other, but then Noemí started to dream of him.
Noemí was having strange, disquieting dreams. She dreamed of golden light and a woman with golden light instead of a face. She also started sleepwalking, a habit she hadn’t had since childhood. It was even more disturbing when she dreamed of being with Virgil and sleepwalked into his room from her bath, wearing only a robe. The lines began to blur between dream and reality. She also started to notice strange things in the house, a loud buzzing noise, golden light, and moving mold. She thought that she was hallucinating. Was she being affected by Catalina’s talk of things in the wall and in the house?
After her first visit to town alone, Florence told Catalina that someone should drive her for future visits. She managed to convince Francis to drop her off in town and pick her up later. She made her usual rounds of the healer, the doctor, the post office; there really was nothing else to occupy the time.
At the healer’s, Noemí got the tincture and learned about the Doyle family history. Marta said that the family was cursed. Ruth, Howard’s daughter, had killed her mother, her sisters, and herself. She’d wounded Howard, but spared baby Virgil.
The Doyle family history was full of death in the mines as well. Mysterious illness had swept through the mines and killed most of the workers on multiple occasions. Francis’ father had also killed himself.
In addition to these tragedies, there were also traces of incestuous relations, kissing cousins. The Doyles wanted to keep their family line pure, with their pale skin and blond hair.
The Doyle family and their love were both cursed. Ruth killed her family after they forced her to give up the man she loved to marry her cousin. Florence’s husband killed himself. Both of Howard’s wives, Agnes and her sister, Alice, were both dead, Alice having been killed by her daughter, Ruth.
Beside the house was an English cemetery. Noemí spent some time there to escape the house. She thought it strange that there was a huge statue of Agnes at the family crypt, with the plaque simply stating her name and the word mother. Why would say mother when Agnes had no children?
Poison or Medicine
When Noemí gave Catalina the tincture, she immediately drank several teaspoons. Marta had said this tincture was stronger than the one before. Soon after Catalina drank it, she started convulsing. She called for help and the family came to help as well as the doctor. They told Noemí that the tincture contained opium and she had poisoned her cousin.
Noemí sat with her guilt, and then she decided to visit the healer once more. Francis brought her to town again early one morning. Their strategy was to leave early in the morning before anyone else in the family was up, since both Florence and Virgil did not like her to go to town.
Although the healer was not home, she visited the doctor again. She spoke with him once more, but there really wasn’t anything he could do to help Catalina. He did challenge the family’s claim that the tincture had opium, however. He explained that it was impossible to grow poppies in the town, and Martha would have had no way to obtain opium.
The outing also gave Francis and Noemí a chance to talk. Francis explained that she did not poison Catalina; Catalina had taken the tincture before and had a seizure previously.
Once Noemí shared her theory about the house being haunted and the relationship between the haunting and the mind with Francis, he increasingly told her to go home. She did not feel like she could leave Catalina in the hands of the Doyles. However, in a conversation with Virgil, Noemí finally agreed to go home. The town doctor, Dr. Camarillo, said she might be able to find a doctor in a nearby town and convince them to return to High Place with her to take a look at Catalina.
Into the gloom
The family held a farewell dinner for Noemí. During dinner, Virgil explained that Howard wanted a chance to say goodbye to her. When she entered Howard’s room, he was lying in bed naked. His body was grotesque with growths and pus. Virgil and Florence propelled her forward to first kneel at his bed and then to move forward, so he could kiss her and pour his black essence into her.
Noemí traveled, in her mind, back in time. She saw a tribe of people and their use of mushrooms. She also saw how Doyle stole their knowledge and tried to make himself a God through the use of mushrooms and casual cannibalism. She was absorbed into what she later learned was the gloom. She also learned an important lesson that Ruth, whom she’d dreamt of, had been trying to teach her for weeks, to open her eyes.
It was Francis’ job to care for her, as she was sick from whatever she got from Howard and from entering the gloom. The gloom was the house and the cemetery and the Doyles in a relationship where they fed on each other. She and Catalina had been chosen to be part of the family. They had been breathing in the gloom in the air and eating it in their food; this explained the dreams and strange visions.
God of the gloom
Howard was the powerful being in the gloom, the God. He had been living for three or four hundred years, transmigrating into a new body each time the old one gave out. Male heirs were important for this; he wouldn’t deign to live on in a woman. His time in his current body was near, and he needed to ready his heir.
Plans for Escape
Francis and Noemí were to marry. The family had decided. Francis promised to help Noemí escape. He said the tincture and smoking worked against the house, and they made a plan. He had gotten hold of the tincture confiscated by the family from Catalina, and he fed Noemi a little each day. He also told her what foods were safe to eat. In the meantime, he would prepare some provisions they could use to escape. She made him promise to take Catalina too. He didn’t think that he could escape the hold of the gloom on himself, however.
The house surrounded them and so did the Gloom. It could hear them and see them. One workaround that they used, as suggested by Francis, was to use Spanish to make their escape plans.
Ruth’s wedding garments were taken out, the gown yellowed in age and the veil mildewed. Noemí had no choice in the matter; the outfit was traditional for the Doyles. She and Francis were married by Howard, the family doctor present as well. He was also a Doyle, complicit in their affairs but allowed to live in town as a liaison.
After the wedding, Francis and Noemí were taken to get ready in their rooms. Virgil showed up and tried to rape Noemí. They fought, and he fell, hit his head, and passed out. She then rushed to get Catalina, but she was catatonic. When Noemí tried to get Catalina, the maid who was guarding her tried to stop their escape. She tried to strangle first Noemí and then Francis when he tried to help. Noemí killed her with a razor, the only weapon Francis had been able to procure for her.
Escape from High Place
The trio tried to make their escape but were met by Florence with a gun. She made them turn around and return to Howard’s room for the transmigration. The doctor was waiting. Noemí was sick to realize Howard planned to take over Francis’ body. The leering she had felt from him was real, and she would belong to him.
Howard called Francis forward, and Francis was powerless to disobey. Howard and the gloom could carve your mind and make you submit to them. He’d done this with the servants. While everyone was distracted, Catalina grabbed the doctor’s scalpel and attacked Howard, stabbing him with it. The family members all felt the pain, connected through the gloom.
Noemí tried to get Francis to leave with her, despite his attachment to the family. Francis tried to leave, but then Florence tussled with Francis and Noemí. In the end, Francis shot her. Howard was not dead though and commanded Francis to come to him. He held out his amber ring to Francis, and Francis was powerless to stop his feet from moving toward the bed. Noemí grabbed Francis and shot Howard to release his hold.
Catalina, Noemí, and Francis escaped the room but were frightened to go past two servants on the stairs, although they seemed frozen in place. The trio turned back to use a secret way out of the house, taking care to block the door behind them.
Their escape kit was sparse. Francis had only had time to gather and keep a lamp, 2 sweaters, and a compass in a bag. They got ready and left the house through a tunnel that would take them to the crypt.
An Alternate Way Out
They walked through a tunnel into a chamber that was bright from the mushrooms they grew there. There, Noemí saw many elements from her dream.
As Francis keeled over, saying “she’s in pain”, Noemí realized the buzzing noise had a message. It was Agnes’s pain. She had been buried alive. Noemí recognized the woman from her dreams. She was the source of the buzzing sound often heard in the house. Here was Agnes, mummified and integrated with mushrooms, Howard’s greatest creation and the source of the gloom. She was hurting.
Virgil entered the chamber from above. There was no need for him to follow them from the house; he could simply walk outside into the family’s crypt. Noemí tried to attack him, but he could control her mind, forcing her to drop a knife she had picked up. He had orchestrated her escape, allowing Francis to find and administer the tincture. He wanted to replace Howard and thought Noemí might be able to be released enough from the gloom to kill him. Howard’s hold on the family was too strong, but the tincture might allow Noemí to succeed.
Virgil had no plan to let them escape. He tried to get Francis to ally with him, to yield to him. He said they could share the women. Francis fought with him, but Virgil was stronger; he tried to make Francis eat his own tongue.
Noemí thought that maybe she could help by releasing Agnes. She remembered Ruth’s advice to open your eyes. She threw the lamp at the remains, and the mushrooms caught on fire. The Doyles stopped fighting and collapsed. She and Catalina half-dragged Francis out with them as the fire spread to all the organic matter, the bounty of mushrooms.
Francis remained aware enough to get them through the cemetery, out of the gates, and on the way to town. As they left, they noticed the house was also on fire.
The Ending of Mexican Gothic
Catalina, Francis, and Noemí got help from some farmers that they ran into and were brought to town.
It has been two days, and the doctor and healer have been caring for them. The story the escapees told was of Virgil going mad and setting fire to High Place.
Noemí’s father will arrive the next day. There may be an investigation but Catalina, Noemí and Francis are alive and safe. Noemí refuses to go to sleep to avoid nightmares and to watch over him.
Francis wakes up and he and Noemí talk about the future, of him living in Mexico City or somewhere else. He worries about the resilience of mushrooms and she says if the mushrooms regrow, they can find them and burn them. Francis worries about what’s in his blood, and Noemí spins stories and tries to find the carefree person she used to be. She tells him she won’t leave him and gives him three kisses, one to show he wasn’t dreaming, one for luck, and one for love.
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