Howdy friends! This week I read Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia! As you know, I recently devoured Mexican Gothic and couldn’t wait to pick up her newest novel. Moreno-Garcia stands out to me as a unique writing voice that I absolutely fall into, but I didn’t love this novel *as much*. I’m hoping writing my review helps me collect my thoughts on why exactly that is!
This book begins to unfold following the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico City, 1971. A group of students protesting the authoritarian, anti-communist government are attacked by multiple government sanctioned groups designed to squash rebellion, and all evidence of the attackers is destroyed – except one roll of film.
Maite doesn’t pay much attention to the news. While she thinks it a little odd when her pretty young neighbor asks her to watch her cat for a few days, alarm bells don’t start going off until the girl disappears without a word days later.
Elvis is a member of the Hawks, a group of commie-killers sent on special operation to ruin the spirits of the liberal young students. Now the leader of his small group, he’s sent on a mission to recover lost film from the Corpus Christi Massacre, and locate the missing Leonora – Maite’s neighbor.
In contrast to the gothic horror genre of Mexican Gothic, Velvet Was the Night is a political drama. Each and every character has a role to play as the events unfold, and everything is connected. I actually thought the story to be wildly interesting. Similar to Mexican Gothic, you’re left constantly guessing, constantly in the dark, but you start to see your own theories unwind on the page. The story building and incredible prose of Moreno-Garcia is what will keep me coming back to her books again and again.
I think my biggest problem with this book is Maite! The perspectives alternate between Maite and Elvis, and I quite like Elvis. I like his perspective as an agent doing a job he doesn’t understand the consequences of, and his character growth as he moves through this mission. Maite, however, never, ever grows. Which is a darn shame, because she starts off really annoying, too. I really wanted to like her character, but she has a lot of self pity: she thinks she’s ugly, she thinks she’s old. She hates her job, she hates her family. She’s a liar, and a thief out of boredom. And honestly, valid. Like a lot of what she’s going through validates her feelings, but my issue with this is that she never grows from what she goes through in this book. And she goes through quite a bit! Her small role as a pet sitter kicks off a crazy series of events that she gets to be part of, almost entirely because she didn’t want to take care of her neighbor’s cat. But at the end, she’s the same Maite, she just had a new experience. I hope the open ending gives her a chance to be more than she was in the pages of this book. I want that for a fictional being, tbh.
There’s also a lot in this book that feels like it’s going to nowhere. Especially when we’re talking about Maite’s character, but some about Elvis or the politics as well. It felt like it should pan out to something, and it didn’t, and ended up wasting time. I don’t know what to do with that. Some of it added to the vibe, but most of it felt droning. If you read it, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from to that end.
All this said, I still can’t help but love this book. For real. If I’m heavily critiquing it, sure, there’s a lot to say. But if I think about the feeling it left me with? How much I enjoyed seeing the cast of characters interacting? I just loved it. And along the way I learned some things about Mexico! I highly encourage you to read the afterword; while this book is noir, it’s rooted in some real history I hadn’t even known about. The urge to know what happens next in this book is going to propel you right through it, and I encourage you to remember at the end that there’s truth buried beneath this work of fiction.
All in all, I’m recommending Velvet Was the Night. If you enjoyed Mexican Gothic, know that you’re getting into something completely different, but don’t skip over it! Go give it a read and then come back, so we can complain about Maite together. Have an awesome week, we’re so close to the holiday I can taste it!