I have never viewed myself as much of a Halloween person. I tend to see it as a bother, rather than a seasonal celebration, but this year I missed it. In some ways, I went through the rhythms of the season; a trip to the pumpkin patch, my friend’s – socially distanced – pumpkin carving party, decorating my house, even going to a friend’s garden on the night, but I just couldn’t get excited. My children are getting older and their approach also seemed lackluster, compared to years gone by. Weeks passed with me encouraging them to pick a Halloween costume and yet, as the day itself approached, there were neither costumes nor concern about lack thereof. At the end of the day, I wrapped my son in a giant cobweb, while my daughter trotted off to do her civic duty and help at our local polling station. And so Halloween came and went.
The one thing I did do, in the week rolling up to Halloween was treat myself to a copy of the much-lauded Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I felt that at every turn in my life, this book was to be found. If I switched on my radio it was being discussed; if I went for a walk in a park, someone would be sitting on a bench reading it; if I browsed online, there would be review. So I thought to myself, why not buy a copy? Why not read something spooky in the run-up to Halloween? Yes, I even splurged and bought the hard copy.
At first, I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about. It was fine, but not outstanding and somehow the premise felt dated. Noemi, a beautiful socialite from Mexico City, is encouraged by her father to go to the country to visit her recently married cousin, Catalina. Catalina has married into the Doyle family and is sending disturbing letters from her new home, which suggest she is losing her mind. The Doyles were once wealthy silver miners and although they still own the trappings associated with great wealth, the family has fallen on hard times. Noemi arrives at the family home, High Place, to find a splendid, yet creepy home, devoid of electricity, or any sense of happiness.
Slowly but surely this novel grew on me. Moreno- Garcia has a very visual style of writing and what had initially seemed dated, began to assume a rhythm or pace that I really enjoyed. Mexican Gothic is creepy in a good old fashioned way. Yes, it will remind you of the ghost stories of your youth, but in that wonderful way whereby you’ll want to tell the tale around a campfire one summer night. The story has both an excitement and a gentleness to it that I found so lovely and surprising. At points you find yourself almost shouting for Noemi to just get out of the house and forget all about her cousin and her terrible marriage choices. Best of all, you have no idea until the very last chapter or so, how it could possibly end. Will Noemi get out alive, or will she be trapped forever in this awful place?
Not only did I really enjoy reading Mexican Gothic, it was a high point of the Halloween season for me. As the children grow and Halloween has less resonance for me, why shouldn’t I build a new tradition for myself? There’s plenty out there that’s delightful and creepy and I like the idea of reading this kind of novel on a cold winter’s night. I can still carve a pumpkin and hand out candy, but also move forward.