Gothic horror on Canada Reads? Breaking boundaries is the norm for Mexican Gothic author Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Mexican Canadian author wrote the story as a way of pushing back against stereotypes placed on Latin American stories. Now, TikTok creator Tasnim Geedi is championing the gothic horror novel on the great Canadian book debate.

TikTok creator Tasnim Geedi is championing Mexican Gothic on March 27-30

A composite photo of a book cover featuring the silhouette of a woman in an off the shoulder marron dress and the book's author, a young woman with long hair and glasses looking at the camera.
Mexican Gothic is a novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (Del Ray, Martin Dee)

Born and raised in Mexico, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is known for using the history of her homeland as a jumping off point to weave stories rich in tension, character development and cultural nuance.

From an 1800s historical drama to a 1950s gothic horror to a 1980s noir and a modern-day vampire fantasy — Moreno-Garcia grounds each genre in the socioeconomic realities of a different time period in Mexico. In doing so, she pushes the boundaries of what the literary industry has traditionally considered a "Latin American story." 

Moreno-Garcia published her debut novel Signal to Noise in 2015. Since then, she has written 12 more novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow, The Beautiful OnesVelvet Was the NightThe Daughter of Doctor Moreau and Untamed Shore. She also co-edited a 2012 anthology titled Fungi

Her 2020 novel Mexican Gothic is set to be championed by TikTok creator Tasnim Geedi on Canada Reads 2023.

The great Canadian book debate will take place on March 27-30. The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio One, CBC TV, CBC Gem and on CBC Books

Subverting expectations 

Mexican Gothic is a gothic horror set in 1950s Mexico. It tells the story of a young socialite named Noemí who is called by her cousin to save her from doom in her countryside home, the alluring High Place. Noemí doesn't know much about the house, the region or her cousin's mysterious new husband, but she's determined to do whatever it takes to solve this mystery and save her cousin. 

Mexican Gothic is in development to become a TV series for Hulu.

I wanted to write a gothic story because it's not generally associated with Latin American writers. There is an almost cliché association with magic realism but we are capable of writing more than that.- Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The book furthers Moreno-Garcia's commitment to writing stories that are explicitly Latin American — but, as the author points out, without the stereotypes often projected onto Latin American storytelling. 

"I wanted to write a gothic story because it's not generally associated with Latin American writers. There is an almost cliché association with magic realism but we are capable of writing more than that, so there is sometimes a narrow conception of what we can and what we can't do in a literary sense," Moreno-Garcia said in a recent interview with Jodie Martinson on CBC Radio's On The Coast

It's part of why, Moreno-Garcia says, she gave her book its title. "Mexican Gothic" is as much a statement about what's possible as it is an indication of the story's premise. 

A lover of horror from a young age, Moreno-Garcia was inspired to subvert genre expectations partly because of the work of Mexican filmmaker Carlos Enrique Taboada. 

"He made movies that are very much gothic: they have Mexican actors who are speaking in Spanish and yet they don't conform to any of the genre stereotypes that we expect. That was one of the things that I loved," Moreno-Garcia told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in 2020.

"It was the possibility that you could do gothic in Mexico and that you didn't have to do it in a pastiche way, where you had to cram it with Day of the Dead imagery. There were other ways to tell stories that don't necessarily conform to the narrow expectations that people have of Mexicans."

A new kind of horror

The author was also interested in exploring the narrow expectations placed on women of colour. She set Mexican Gothic in the 1950s because it was a moment of a major cultural shift in Mexico.

"The year 1950 seemed just about right, in a Goldilocks kind of way, because women were going to get to vote in 1953 Mexico. So this is just before women get the vote, but it's after the Mexican Revolution. It's this interim period where some things have changed in terms of how women are perceived, and the rights and freedoms that they have," Moreno-Garcia said on The Next Chapter.

The year 1950 seemed just about right, in a Goldilocks kind of way, because women were going to get to vote in 1953 Mexico.- Silvia Moreno-Garcia

"But there are still many constraints — the view at the time was that the woman, while she may 'waste' her time engaging academic pursuits, ultimately, the final goal is to get married and to have children."

Despite the patriarchal culture she lives in, Moreno-Garcia's protagonist, Noemí, is self-assured and independent — characteristics Moreno-Garcia told Shelagh Rogers were inspired by women in her family. 

The writer's paternal grandmother and a few of her great-aunts never got married, which was uncommon at that time.

"They had more money and they were able to make different choices. They traveled a little bit more and were able to play into the socialite game," Moreno-Garcia explained. 

In contrast, the author's maternal grandmother, who worked as a maid in a working class family, did not study medicine because her father — Moreno Garcia's great-grandfather — did not want her to go to school with men and instead, advised her to find a role more suitable for contributing to the family. 

Learning about her family history gave the author insight into the kind of paternalism women lived under, as well as how class tensions amplified or buffered patriarchal control.

Amid the many mysteries scattered throughout Mexican Gothic, this kind of class commentary and feminist resistance underpins Moreno-Garcia's gothic horror, giving weight to each encounter Noemí has as she navigates the haunted estate. 

LISTEN | Silvia Moreno-Garcia talks to Shelagh Rogers about Mexican Gothic:

Silvia Moreno- Garcia talks to Shelagh Rogers about her novel, Mexican Gothic.

The power of TikTok

In the lead-up to Canada Reads 2023, Mexican Gothic is once again showing up on bestseller lists — and in book displays. 

"Now, if you go into bookstores, a lot of them have a place for my book. [...] It's cool because my book has not always been displayed," Moreno-Garcia told Jodie Martinson in their CBC Radio interview. 

A book cover of a woman in a maroon dress sitting in front of green wallpaper and a close-up photo of a young woman with glasses.
TikTok star Tasnim Geedi is championing the novel Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (CBC)

The book has also made the rounds on TikTok, which is why content creator Tasnim Geedi is the perfect fit to champion this story.

Geedi is a Somali Canadian nursing student who is best known as @groovytas on TikTok, where she posts about her favourite books. She's one of the biggest "BookTok" creators in Canada, with over 100,000 followers, and her content has been liked more than five million times.

When asked why Mexican Gothic should win Canada Reads 2023, Geedi told Q with Tom Power, "This is not just a story about dark family secrets but the lingering effects of colonialism. And Silvia does not waste a single sentence to immerse you in this chilling story, which will have you questioning everybody, including yourself."

This is not just a story about dark family secrets but the lingering effects of colonialism.- Tasnim Geedi on why Mexican Gothic should win Canada Reads

In her interview with Jodie Martinson, Moreno-Garcia said she's excited for Geedi to champion her book because "we sometimes complain that young people have no interest in books or are not reading but on TikTok, there is this big BookTok community that is really embracing literature and sharing the things that they love."

"It's quite fun to see people really get into the love of reading and a new generation finding old classics and new books that they want to champion with their whole heart."

Soon, all of Canada will have the opportunity to get into the love of reading when the great Canadian book debate returns for its 22nd season — only time will tell if Moreno-Garcia's historical gothic will win their hearts. 

Moreno-Garcia's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 


Nikky Manfredi is an associate producer at CBC Books. She is a writer, producer and fact-checker based in Toronto.

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