Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Rating: 5 Stars
‘Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends – Sebastian and Daniela – and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. The three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, reviving memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? Is there any magic left?’
Signal to Noise has been one of the featured books in the Fantasy section of my Waterstones for ages and Jess over @themoormaiden has been singing its praises for some time, so my reading it was kind of inevitable. I was very excited to find a copy at the Harris Library on one of my regular hauls. I read it over the course of a couple of days and finished it whilst I was travelling up to see Simon Armitage read at Grasmere.
I shouldn’t like this book. I’m not keen on jumping back and forth between time periods and I’m not very keen on multiple POV’s. I always end up preferring one section over the others, rendering some sections a trial to read whilst I wait to get back to the action (see my upcoming review on The Silversmith’s Wife). But this book is evidence that you often don’t like something until it WORKS and my lord does it work here. The sections are all short without being too fragmented and we somehow jump between characters and time periods without ever losing the momentum that drives the book forward. It doesn’t feel strange when things that haven’t happened in the past yet are glossed over or left undiscussed in the future because it fits with Meche as a person. If she cares about something and is not happy with how it turned out, then she doesn’t talk about it. The subjects she sidesteps and ignores are incredibly telling rather than annoying gaps.
The trio of friends are at the centre of the book. Meche, Sebastien and Daniela are wonderful. They feel like real teenagers in all their naivety and callousness. In the petty hates and overwhelming passions that rule their lives. They can be irritating, they can be cruel but they are always utterly plausible and understandable. They may even perpetrate terrible crimes, but you are so far into their heads that you can see what led them to that path. They never, ever act out of character just to drive to plot forward. Every strange action can be explained and traced through convoluted teenage thought processes.
The trio in the future are equally as richly represented – Meche’s still Meche in all her bold and awkward glory, Sebos is still Sebos just grown a little more into himself and, although I would have liked some more of her, I loved who Daniela grew up into.
I have been really annoyed by the trend of authors pairing characters up just because they’re friends. That’s not how it works. People can be friends for years without an inch of romantic potential between them. Thankfully that is NOT what Moreno-Garcia does here. The relationship between Meche and Sebos builds slowly, glacially slowly at times. There is always an undercurrent there and the realisation that they could be good together – that a lot of their regrets about how things ended are rooted in that thrawted potential – is wonderful. Maybe I’m just a sucker for second chances, for people with a rich history finally choosing to try and make something real – after all, there is a reason Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen novel – but I loved how Moreno-Garcia dealt with this. It was incredibly satisfying to read.
The magic – so intrinsically linked to the music for Meche’s generation – is wonderfully realised and thrums steadily in the background throughout the book. I wanted to know more about Meche’s grandmother’s magic and I wanted to know why it wouldn’t work for her father, but I was never disturbed by the lack of the specifics. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know precisely how the magic worked because they didn’t know, they were making it up as they went along. The magic for them flowed through feelings rather than in any ordered manner and that felt right, they were teenagers after all.
I would recommend this book to anyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fantasy buff, a lover of time jumping novels, an old romantic or a music aficionado. This book is for you. It’s that simple.