First Chapter Thoughts: Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Gracia

A while back, I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, and fell utterly in love. Her prose, her characterization, her wry, dark humour, combined with Mayan mythology and clever worldbuilding – It’s a fantastic novel, which I’ve reviewed over here.

So, inevitably, I’m checking out more of Moreno-Garcia’s work. The first I got my hands on was actually her first published novel, Untamed Shore. Right off the bat, I’m catching reoccurring themes in Moreno-Garcia’s work. The main character is a girl on the cusp of adulthood, desperate to escape to a larger city with dreams of having more, wanting to follow her father for all that he abandoned her (only by dying in GoJaS; here it’s a much more literal abandonment, and he still sends her odd presents from Mexico City here and there.) The MC’s mothers are theoretically helpful, but urge their daughters to accept their place and stop trying to be or have more. And in both GoJaS and Untamed Shore, the book is not set in the present day; Untamed Shore is set in 1979, the tacky decor and clash of the modern with the so-claimed “provincial” driving much of the novel and evoking a more mythical past behind it.

The similarities don’t hurt the novel at all. In fact, if I hadn’t drunk down GoJaS so recently and greedily, I probably wouldn’t have thought about it; these are time-honored themes, after all, and Viridiana and Casiopeia are different enough characters in different enough books that it’s a thematic echo that strengthens both books. Part of what makes Untamed Shore so fascinating, though, even just from the first chapter, is its noir sensibilities. A seaside small town, a girl who dreams of more, shark jaws hanging up to dry, and a chess-playing mentor in a charcoal suit… The imagery isn’t of Mexico as westerners understand it, but of a much bleaker, more mundane reality.

I particularly love the focus right off the bar on Viridiana as a shark-fisher, and the sense of Desengaño being a place full of wasted potential. It was Meant to be many things, and these things did not transpire. Particularly I think that’s where the bleak feeling comes from; Viridiana can see her own possible future in the false starts around her. The shark imagery is unexpected, but excellent – a touch morbid, in a wonderfully evocative way. Also, although I haven’t the foggiest idea what the mystery or noir elements are going to be, I’m eyeing the shark imagery like…. i see you

Excited to read the rest of the novel, and deeply curious to see what darker things are on the horizon.

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