I’ll be honest. The only reason I requested this book is because of the shark on the cover. 😅 However, I ended up absolutely loving it! (Not to mention completely and totally falling for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing. Am I off to get more of her books now? I can neither confirm nor deny.)
I used to tell people that I wasn’t really interested in literary fiction. Turns out, I’m just uninterested in literary fiction written by and featuring cishet white men.
Curious about Untamed Shores by Silvia Moreno-Garcia? Read on to find out what I thought!
Title: Untamed Shore
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Noir, Literary Fiction, Mystery
Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She’s bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children.
Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners’ lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future.
When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone’s asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.
Content warnings: Murder, violence, graphic injury, underage sex, underage drinking
☕ Quotes ☕
“People think Baja California is the desert, and the desert is one single, flat, lonely space. Baja California is mountain ridges, clouds of fog spreading over the land, the salt fields, the shocking sight of a valley shaded by date palms, the orchards where olives grow, the stone missions with sun-dried adobe bricks left to crumble into dust, ancient caves decorated with two-headed serpents, —and yes, the desert dotted with cacti.”
“Sharks haven’t changed in millions of years. They know how to survive better than we do.
“Viridiana dreamt too much. She knew it. Her father had dreamt too. Dreamt himself into pity and exhaustion.”
“People can take their time when they have money. They can exhaust all roads and partake in all their whims, while people with no cash need to make decisions quickly. They are forced into making those decisions. By their parents, by their neighbours, by the whole town.”
“She’d always been so afraid that the land would eat her, but it was obvious now that the answer was you had to eat it.”
☕ Plot ☕
Set in 1970s Mexico, Untamed Shore is a story we know all too well – that of a young girl with dreams much too big for her small hometown. Viridiana dreams of Paris, Hollywood, Mexico City, and other places far, far away from Desengaño where she’s lived her whole life. When three wealthy tourists arrive in town and hire her as an assistant and tour guide, she thinks the money from this job is her ticket out of here. That is at least until one of them is murdered, and she’s drawn into a web of lies and trickery that will take all her wits to escape.
I absolutely adored the way Silvia Moreno-Garcia seamlessly wove two genres into one plot. On the one hand, you have Viridiana, stifled under the weight of the expectations of her family and the other townsfolk. She’s expected to marry well, inherit her mother’s shop, have lots of children, and spend the rest of her life caring for her family, going to church, and serving her husband. On the other, you have this noir thriller of disguises, a murder mystery, and a plot to get a wealthy husband’s money. Despite the two disparate tones, the author manages to blend the two into a flawlessly executed narrative.
I was completely torn about how I wanted to approach reading this book. I wanted to devour it right away and find out the answers to all the mysteries this book offered up, but I also wanted to take my time and savour every bit of the plot as it unfolded. Either way, I feel like this book ended all too soon and I just wanted more time with it!
I feel it also ended on a perfect note. Not everything is answered; you’re left wondering about some certain fates, and you’re not entirely sure Viridiana gets her happy ending. To that point, some might even feel they end the book wondering if Viridiana even deserved a happy ending. The genius of this book is that it left you wanting more, but also completely satisfied.
☕ Writing ☕
This was easily one of the best atmospheric books I’ve ever read. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing is just so. Damn. Good. I could see the little town of Desengaño, the dresses the stylish foreigners who come to town wear, the beach, the fishermen, the desert, and the hot Baja Californian sun beating down on it all.
She also really knows how to build suspense. Despite the fact that you’re already pretty sure who the killer is and what the motive was, you still keep turning the page because you want to – nay, need to find out more!
I haven’t read any of this author’s books before (although, trust me, that’s being remedied very soon!) but this writing style, both informative and emotionally evocative, is the sort that I like in my thrillers – and apparently in my literary fiction too!
☕ Characters ☕
Holy moly, was this ever a character-driven story! But in particular, I’d like to focus on the one that really captured my attention: our protagonist, Viridiana.
The daughter of a local shopkeeper and an academic who runs away to Mexico City, Viridiana has dreams to go beyond her little town and experience more from life. However, she chafes under what’s expected of a girl like her: marry and have children, and that’s all.
For many readers, Viridiana’s struggle portrays an all-too familiar reality. Familial expectations will always, always be a thing – and whether or not these expectations are something that can be willingly complied with or contrary to what we ourselves want out of our lives, they’re still something all of us struggle with.
Every choice Viridiana makes throughout the novel is fuelled by her desire for more, and that in turn makes her one of the most complex and well-rounded characters I’ve ever read about. She very quickly sheds her ingenue-like innocence and takes on the mantle of a morally grey character, concerned only with making sure she comes out on top.
Viridiana is not meant to be a likeable character. But I ended up liking her very much anyway.
☕ Overall ☕
If you’d like to check out a noir mystery starring someone other than a cishet old white men, definitely give this book a try. It was atmospheric, haunting, and featured a genuinely morally grey character. You’ll end up with more questions than answers, as well as on the fence about whether or not you liked the main character, but you’ll love this book all the more for it. Believe you me.
Let me know what you think!
☕ Have you read any other Silvia Moreno-Garcia books?
☕ What do you think of literary fiction? What about thrillers or mysteries?
☕ Have you read this book? What did you think?