“I was interested in male Gothic, where there are supernatural elements and violence”
Perched on a huge hill in a remote Mexican town, a Victorian-style mansion with tumbled tiles, sumptuous décor and an impressive ebony terrace hides the desired secrets.
The townspeople say that women are going crazy in Doiliai manor. One day, on the doorstep of the manor, the arrogant, flirtatious aristocrat Noem Taboada appears, determined to search for what happened to check on her cousin, Catherine, who lived in the Highlands. However, Doilies don’t like guests, and inspiring a foot to go home isn’t easy.
The author of “Mexican Gothic” tells about the unexpected components of history, the mysterious Mexico, why he took the Gothic novel and what it might be fun to read today.
“Mexican Gothic” is called a Gothic novel. How to describe this genre and how to inspire to write a Gothic novel?
I wanted to try something new. Gothic novels are characterized by very melodramatic narratives, which can be written using many different elements. Also, they don’t seem to be fashionable anymore – it was fun to take on a genre that few people choose today.
I have been interested in horror and Gothic literature for a long time. The Gothic novel was one of the first forms of speculative literature I came across. The first horror author I read was Edgar Allan Poe, after his calculations for HP Lovecraft. At the time, as a teenager, I was reading Horacio Quiroga. I read a lot of what you can call the main classics – “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “Carmilla”, “Doctor Jackil and Mr. Hyde”.
Gothic novels are often referred to as “female Gothic,” but I’ve always been more interested in what’s called “male Gothic,” which contains supernatural elements and violence.
“Female Gothic” – like Jane Eir’s stories – a young woman travels to a remote place, meets a man there, and then the mystery is revealed. The end is happy – this is often expected from such a story.
Especially when we talk about the revival of the mid-20th century Gothic novel, the new Gothic novels. There is always a mystery in them, but there are no supernatural things, it turns out that what at first seems mystical has a real reason.
In women’s Gothic novels, the most important thing is a love story. And I have always preferred the horror Gothic, the world of Dracula and Carmilla. It seems to me that I have caused confusion in the classification, because “Mexican Gothic” is everything.
Mexican Gothic takes you to Mexico in the 1960s. Why this time?
The choice was limited by historical reality. I wanted the action to take place at a time when the Mexican mines were already closed. To be in a city where life once boiled and is now dead. This is the time after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and the Christopher Conflict.
The Crister War, another choice of the Crister Uprising or La Cristiada — an armed internal conflict that took place in Mexico in 1926-1929. in response to the adoption of articles by the secular and the Catholic Church seeking to diminish the Constitution. Hence, it is the fourth or fifth decade. I finally chose the early 1960s because those times are well known from my family stories. This is the beginning of an ever-changing industrial change in Mexico.
In many cases, the main character of Mexican Gothic, Noem, goes beyond the usual Gothic novel heroine – she is neither a naive nor a tragic figure. On the contrary, she is confident, has a broad horizon and understands what depends on her. How did you develop her character?
Many years ago I had a photo of my aunt, which I lost when I moved. In the photo, she is wearing a beautiful dress, standing with some gentleman, the photo was taken in the sixties. The dress exposes her shoulders, she looks very confident and beautiful. I began to imagine she was going to a few parties. From this grew the character of the novel.
Characters from Mexico and Latin America are often portrayed in the literature as suffering people, uneducated immigrants. I wanted a character that didn’t live up to the stereotypes readers expected.
No brown woman traveling in La Bestia (otherwise known as the Death Train – a violent freight train, some migrants from Mexico to the US border when unable to buy a bus ticket or pay smugglers) every second sentence shouts dios mio! (Spanish god thinks!) and constantly reminding you what a misery it is. I didn’t want this stereotype.
Height in the novel Mexican Gothic is like a separate character. Were you inspired by houses that exist in reality, or is it an imaginary place?
The city that inspired the novel is real. It is called Real del Monte and is located in the Hidalgo Mountains. Formerly ruled by British forces, there were more mines operating there.
The town has a British cemetery visited. They look to me like from an old horror movie.
The city is very cold and foggy. People are surprised every time I say that it can be cold in a Mexican city, but it is. The road is raining heavily there. The geography of Hidalgo is very interesting.
Symbols of decay are important in this novel. Can you tell me how you associated those characters with the breakdown of the Doil family and why?
Maybe it would be interesting to write about obsessed homes that are new construction. Someone damn Airbnb. But I like old things, so in the novel, the action takes place in a house that already exists.
And the Doilies hold on to their glorious past and outdated way of life. It is better for them to live in a crumbling house than to come to terms with the fact that their best times are long gone. For someone who has been in English for a long time, there are no references to give away your home keys.
All Mexican Gothic figures are subject to patriarchal control. Noem in the Highlands is for his father, Virgil controls Catalina, and Howard controls everyone. Are these signs of the time, or a critique of the dangers of patriarchy?
In the sixties, when my grandmother was young, she wanted to study medicine. The father did not allow it because it would have meant that she would attend lectures with the men.
As a result, she studied secretary at school and then married. That was the order at the time. Women were granted the right to vote in Mexico in 1953. You married and were in the power of either your husband or your father.
Gothic novels are generally very patriarchal. They have a “housewife” and the woman is often subordinate to the man, which also causes erotic excitement.
Noem seems to understand this. If she were a modern woman, she would probably call herself the last girl (the last surviving girl in a horror film, from whose point of view the story is told).
I was fascinated by how you used colonialism, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, eugenics and, most wonderfully, mycology – the science of mushrooms – as a means of creating horror. Did you plan all of these uses before you started writing, or did they fall together as you developed the storyline?
Eugenics has overtaken most of the attitudes related to gender and race. Often those eugenics are divided into “proper” and “inappropriate” tables, and its racist, darker people are classified as “inferior.”
The same goes for women and femininity. Sexually active women are presented as dangerous, certain of their behaviors, such as alcohol consumption, are seen as a violation of morality and natural order. There is a cult of motherhood – the mother is especially respected.
Eugenics define which women are appropriate, what they want, and warn men of those requested dangers posed by women. I read the work of British Eugene Anthony M. Ludovici of the 1930s, where he says that incest between relatives is better than racial mixing. I felt like everything was falling like a jigsaw puzzle while writing a novel.
What about mushrooms? Mushroom spores and mold are not only an essential element of this book, they also help create the atmosphere of a horrible, abandoned home. Why mushrooms?
I am interested in mycology. I like mushrooms – they are very interesting organisms. They are neither vegetables nor animals, they are anything else. Mushrooms belong to another kingdom, although they can be found in the vegetable department.
They are also interesting in the variety of shapes and what they can do. Interesting cultural history of the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
There are specific purposes for wanting certain organisms in order for me to engage in religious practices or rituals. John Marco Allegro wants the roots of Christianity – in fertility cults, to be able to obtain hallucinogenic mushrooms, and although this theory seems quite crooked in the 1970s, I have seen new scientific work that makes similar arguments.
Mushrooms are interesting not only visually or in terms of taste, but also in what they do. There are several types of fungi that act as parasites. Pretty scary if you think about it. One of them invades the insects, I write about it in a book.
I don’t invent. The fungus invades the body and changes its behavior. If one organism can take over another and change its behavior, it’s horrible.
Horror in the novel is caused not only by the supernatural elements, but also by what is happening in reality. Howard Doyle believes in eugenics, domestic violence, emotional violence, women are almost constantly at risk of sexual violence. Why did you decide to combine these elements?
Gothic literature has certain narrative elements that make people search for that literature. One is that the action takes place in an isolated place, the second is the home environment, another element, at least in the new Gothic novels, is romantic.
All of these elements evolved along with the Gothic novel and were used for mass production. Whatever book you picked up, their covers were very similar, promotional phrases as well. Stories too.
Those books were the forerunners of the modern novel, they were printed en masse. They contain real elements, such as a mad woman, a mystery revealed in new Gothic novels that seems to have mystical elements, but wishes there was nothing supernatural there.
Reading Gothic novels is fun because as readers of those items we specifically and are looking for, they are purposefully put together in those books. But the fact is that it’s not so much fun all the time to read the same thing.
Old Gothic novels are not written for today’s reader. They’re not necessarily interesting right now. I wanted to use all of those goals so that people familiar with Gothic literature could recognize them. Together, I wanted to present everything a little differently to make the book interesting to a modern audience.
Prepared by silviamoreno-garcia.com