Book Review

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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.

Untamed Shore is the first novel I’ve read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, but it won’t be the last. While this is her only thriller (so far!) I love her style of writing and characterisation, and I’m particularly intrigued by her latest novel, Mexican Gothic.

Viridiana live in Baja California, and her life consists of helping her mother with the house and their small family shop.  Gifted in languages, she dreams of studying at university in Mexico City, but everyone expects her to settle down with her former boyfriend, Manual – a choice that would instantly see her married, having children, and giving up on her dreams and ambitions.  It’s an awful situation, and it’s so successfully evoked by the author that I find it impossible not to sympathise with her.  No one supports her desire to escape, and those around her see her as odd for wanting anything other than what is expected of her, and her future seems inevitable as she doesn’t have the means to escape the life that others have mapped out for her. 

Her skill with languages means that she is able to take on paid work as a translator and local guide, particularly in the tourist season.  When three Americans – Ambrose, Daisy, and Gregory – arrive in need of an assistant, she’s thrilled to be taken on, and this immediately gives her a glimpse of another way of life.  The foreigners – Daisy and Gregory in particular – are glamourous and captivating, and Viridiana quickly falls under their spell.  I think that Viridiana’s attitude and desire to escape make her seem more mature than she is, but her interactions with the three Americans show her naivety and her lack of experience with anyone outside of her own small world.  She adapts quickly to the situation and their behaviour, but for much of the novel I couldn’t help but think that she was out of her depth.

When one of the three Americans dies, Viridiana agrees to cover for them, supporting their version of events despite her doubts about the veracity of their statements, and this sees her become increasingly entangled in their web.  I can’t too much more about the plot, but I genuinely feared for Viridiana, particularly as she starts to learn more about her employers and as others arrive with questions of their own. I’ll admit that I worked out some of what was going on before it was revealed, but I found that the real pleasure in this novel was in Viridiana’s development, and that question of whether she could find a way out of a seemingly inevitable future. 

In Untamed Shore, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has given us an enjoyable but slightly unusual thriller. I enjoyed the coming of age element of the narrative and would recommend this to those looking for something genuinely different in a thriller.

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