book reviews by Althea

Signal to Noise – Silvia Moreno-Garcia ****

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I picked up this book because I’d read one of Moreno-Garcia’s short stories in the ‘Dangerous Games’ anthology, and really enjoyed it.

From that one previous experience of her writing (a modern Lovecraft tribute), this book wasn’t quite what I expected – however, it won me over.

Alternating between scenes set in 1988 and twenty years later, the novel introduces us to Meche.

In 1988, she’s a teen in Mexico City. Her family doesn’t have much money, and she’s an unpopular, nerdy girl. However, she’s got two friends, Sebastian and Daniela. The trio often seems inseparable. And she’s got her music, a world which her dearly beloved father introduced her to.

In 2009, Meche is a successful computer programmer based in Oslo. After years away, she’s visiting Mexico and the old neighborhood after her estranged fathers death. To the reader, it’s at first inexplicable why she’s so very strongly opposed to seeing either of her old friends – and what happened to the relationship between her and her father.

As the book progresses, the answers are gradually revealed. It all has something to do with a discovery of witchcraft: objects of power and wishes come true. But more, it has to do with the long, slow process of growing up; about decisions and regrets. Choices have consequences; some things, once broken, can never be mended. But some things, perhaps, can.

The magic here is powerful and believable, integrated seamlessly with daily life. However, although the magic is an integral part of the story, the kernel of the book is about love and hate: interpersonal relationships.

Moreno-Garcia’s writing is excellent, and she excels at drawing fully-rounded, complex characters. Mexico City came to vivid life under her pen. If I had to point to one thing I would change, though, I’d say I wished I was given a little bit more a a grounded sense of what Meche’s life in Oslo is like – we don’t actually see Norway at all in the books, so it feels a bit dreamlike when she talks about living there: like her family members that have never left Mexico, we can’t even really imagine it. Perhaps that’s intentional, though.

This is a young author to watch – I expect further great things from her.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book. As always, my opinion is my own.


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