Someone in my book club in Cardiff mentioned Signal to Noise to me with some enthusiasm, and I’d already looked at it speculatively a few times, so I was quite eager to give it a go. Music and magic being linked is hardly a revolutionary idea for me: Orpheus, the enchantment of a good song, the Pied Piper… But this uses music like Bowie and Nina Simone; songs like ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Popular music, recent music. It’s an accessible sort of magic, and the perfect kind of magic for a teenager to use.
The characters are very teenage: a mismatched group who don’t get along with other people so well, at least as teens; who grow apart, as adults, so that the first moment of recognition is a strange one. The pushy prickly leader and the gentle follower, the bond between a boy and a girl of understanding, of seeing a future… The teenage versions of the characters definitely work well, though as adults there’s still something so teenage about them — or at least about Meche, Mercedes, the main character.
The two plots run parallel: Meche, Daniela and Sebastian as teens, casting spells using vinyl, and then the same characters as adults, grown far apart — wrenched far apart, it turns out, by what happened when they were teens. That plot is kind of interesting, though I didn’t really feel Meche’s power trip. It got way too menacing too fast, and after that I couldn’t understand Sebastian and Daniela still wanting to be anywhere near Meche. Sure, the spells she wanted to cast were understandable — but also manipulative, and in one case, really dangerous. It doesn’t feel like Meche deserves Daniela and Sebastian’s patience and forgiveness, however close Sebastian and Meche were before.
I found it an overall entertaining story, but not as great as I’d hoped. I liked the fact that it was set in Mexico City, and the little flavours of food and stories which reminded you, every now and again, where the characters were and what shaped and constrained their lives — those subtle differences from the typical American teenagers. It’s not a hugely marked thing, though, now I think about it in retrospect — the story could be the same without the setting, I think.