In 2018, V. Castro debuted with the bestseller The Queen of the Cicadas. In just a short time, her writings have received critical acclaim, including the gothic novella Goddess of Filth, which was published in 2021. Paying homage to Castro’s Mexican-American roots, and based in her hometown of San Antonio, the story follows the interweaving lives of five Chicana friends: Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline.
The group of friends, inspired by the cult classic The Craft (1996), gather on a warm, summer night in an attempt to perform a séance of their own. It isn’t until Fernanda, the quietest one of the group, begins acting out of character, do the girls realize that something isn’t quite right.
Is she unconscious, the friends wonder? Not only is Fernanda more disoriented than usual, she also begins chanting in Nahuatl, a language native to their Aztec ancestors. Is she possessed, the friends consider?
Told primarily through the point of view of Lourdes, who admittedly has little to live for except for her friends, the story follows Fernanda as she transforms into someone—or something—who is trying to make their voice heard. The one reserved Fernanda is now bold and brash, strange and scary. Her friends realize she has an inhabitant in her body. But what does the inhabitant want? More importantly, how can they get the inhabitant to leave, without harming Fernanda in the process?
Goddess of Filth
For Mrs. Garcia, Fernanda’s mother, this involves invoking her spiritual side, seeking solace in Father Moreno as well as a series of priests who recommend everything from an exorcism to admitting that there is nothing they can do other than to admit that Fernanda is beyond saving. Castro’s crisp writing deftly intertwines the backstories of Mrs. Garcia and Father Moreno, who are both harboring secrets of their own–secrets that would be devastating if anyone found out.
Fernanda, with her newfound power and freedom, comes closer and closer to uncovering these secrets, all while exploring her own sexuality in the process. Castro’s writing comes alive as she intertwines the stories of several players. There is Fernanda, who is sexually empowered by her new inhabitant. There is Mrs. Garcia, who is desperate for her daughter to remain naive and pure, while also terrified that her daughter will learn a life-altering secret.
There’s Father Moreno, with his special interest in Fernanda, who he views as a demon in need of an exorcism; it is slowly revealed that he is carrying several unholy secrets of his own. Lastly, there are Fernanda’s group of friends, including Lourdes, who visits her friend on a daily basis in order to make sure she is clothed and fed. And there are Ana, Perla, and Pauline, who are doing their best to help Lourdes ensure that Fernanda is still alive. And is she?
When the inhabitant takes control, Fernanda has no recollection of who she is, where she is, or what is happening to her. This helplessness and powerlessness is contrasted with her newfound power and freedom, emboldened by her inhabitant. Meanwhile, Lourdes is still wondering who exactly is this inhabitant? Is she a goddess? An animal? Neither? With the assistance of a local professor who is fluent in Nahuatl, Lourdes finally begins to discover who the inhabitant is, and exactly what it has to say.
As much as a feminist text as a horror novella, Goddess of Filth stands apart because of its roots in Mexican folklore as well as its emphasis on the voices of women, and figures, who are often overlooked and unheard. Women not only define the story; they are the story.
Some are flawed, but all are doing their best to help their friend, daughter, or neighbor. The community of women who come together to assist Fernanda in her time of need will resonate with women of color who find that their community sustains and nourishes them in the darkest, and most challenging, of times.
Castro’s novella also stands out because of how she brings her culture into the story. She is Mexican American, born and raised in San Antonio. Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline are Mexican American as well, born and raised in San Antonio. By incorporating Aztec mythology into the narrative, Castro is not only deepening our knowledge of mythological figures; she is also shedding insight into the influence of Aztec Mythology on Mexican Culture.
Lastly, the book resonates because it is a form of social commentary, with its reflections on the ramifications of colonization and oppression, among other topics that are often forefront in our minds in the present day. Lastly, this is a story of possession gone right, as it empowers the woman who is being possessed, while also empowering readers who may feel overlooked and unheard in their daily lives.
If you enjoy this book, here are some others like it, spanning the 1970s to the present day.
- If you liked the coming-of-age aspect of Goddess of Filth, try Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks.
- If you’d like more books that feature mother-daughter dynamics, pick up Sundial by Catriona Ward by Catriona Ward.
- If you’re looking for another classic novella with women-led stories, check out Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.