Highlights in the Charts
By Jenna Tomlinson, Lauren Fardoe and Arabella Petts
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reminiscent of classic gothic novels such as Dracula and Rebecca, Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is a bestseller for a reason. The novel twists a postcolonial gothic horror with political inflection and taps into cultural fears. Set in Mexico, young socialite Noemi Taboada is sent a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin Catalina, begging for help. Noemi heads to High Place, an isolated manor house in the countryside owned by the family of Catalina’s wealthy English husband, unsure of what she will find there.
High Place makes for an excellent gothic setting. The isolated house has one treacherous road in and out of it and is completed by an abandoned silver mine and desolate cemetery. The family keep themselves isolated from the local village. The history of the Doyle family and their place in Mexico allows for a commentary on the colonial exploitation of native workers. This is furthered within the family unit too: Moreno-Garcia weaves sexual politics into the mix, as we see how the male members of the family treat women as lesser citizens. The story deals with the traditional gothic amalgam of repulsion and desire, but there is also a violent aspect at work. Virgil Doyle, Catalina’s husband, begins a sexual game of cat and mouse with Noemi upon meeting her, which mirrors the menacing advances of his father.
Moreno-Garcia herself has said she is more interested in what is known as "male gothic" – those gothic horrors that contain supernatural elements and violence. This influence can be seen in Mexican Gothic: the house invades Noemi’s dreams with horrific visions and she experiences bouts of sleepwalking. Noemi is an unusual heroine – a socialite clad in high fashion outfits with a penchant for pleasure. She is intelligent but also recognises her place in a society where her beauty and social discipline will get her further than her brains. Her only ally in High Place is the youngest son, Francis. Together they battle a variety of demons from Mayan legends, ancient Egyptian concepts and mycological hallucinations.
Moreno-Garcia has utilised her sound research into Mexico's history of both drought and eugenics to construct a clever reveal. It is easy to see what makes this novel stand out from the gothic horror crowd.
Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith
Dr Julie Smith sets out to provide powerful self-help advice to optimise your mental health. From handling anxiety and combating low mood to building self-confidence and learning to forgive yourself, this book challenges the everyday issues that affect us all and offers simple, practical solutions that might just change your life.
Arranged in manageable chapters, Dr Smith’s debut discusses a broad range of techniques for a variety of mental health issues. She proposes that the techniques discussed in therapy are not meant to be gatekept. It is vital that people are given the opportunity to recognise the capacity within themselves to manage their own mental health daily, instead of assigning blame to their experiences.
This comprehensive book is an essential toolbox in turbulent times. Dr Smith emphasises the importance of allowing emotions to be present rather than blocking them out.
The layout of the book as a selection of techniques allows for readers to choose which technique benefits them. This constructs a controllable, safe environment in which growth is encouraged – but not forced – and provides essential support in a friendly and reassuring manner.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
One of the most highly anticipated debuts of the year, To Paradise is a political, thought-provoking novel spanning three centuries and three different versions of America.
In 1893 in an alternate New York, people may love whomever they choose – or so it seems. A young man from an affluent family declines a marriage offer from a respectable man to be with a teacher of no means: but at what cost?
In 1993 Manhattan, the AIDS epidemic is growing worse whilst a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older husband, keeping his childhood secrets and the fate of his father hidden.
In 2093, the world is plagued by pandemics and governed by totalitarian rule, and one powerful man’s granddaughter tries to navigate life after his death.
Each story within the novel tells an entirely different tale and are not tied together. Even the endings of each individual story do not necessarily have their own complete ending, allowing the reader to imagine the characters’ fates. Although the stories do not overlap in any way, characters between each tale have the same names, sometimes making you stop and pause to remind yourself which century you are in. Despite this somewhat confusing aspect of the book, it remains an interesting stylistic choice.
After the success of Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life, many people may be expecting a similar read, but To Paradise could not be further from her last novel. Although her writing style remains extremely detailed, the themes of love, desire and power turn this book into a much more political and provocative read.