I thoroughly enjoyed Claudia Piñeiro’s tale of Argentinian affluence gone awry so I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading her second book. Perhaps my subconscious somehow knew that it wouldn’t, for me, be the same kind of reading experience.
It is a deliciously short book which once again takes us into the world of the wealthier inhabitants of Buenos Aries. It is told mostly from the point of view of Inés whose persona is derived from her status as the long-term wife of a successful businessman. When her marriage, and by extension her entire life, looks to be under threat from Ernesto’s behaviour she becomes a woman of action: attempting to put to rights what has gone wrong in her world in a most unconventional way.
My friend Maxine described this as book as a “perfectly pitched black comedy” and it saddens me anew that she is no longer with us and I won’t be able to discuss my very different reaction to the book. I did enjoy sharing thoughts about the books we both loved with Maxine but I also enjoyed those times when we disagreed: intelligent debate without a hint of aggression or derision on either side is not that easy to find these days.
Though I could see some humour in Inés’ logical but flawed thinking I didn’t really find ALL YOURS terribly funny. I’m much more inclined to agree with another crime reading buddy’s assessment of this as book as much less perceptive and thought-provoking than its predecessor. I admit that all three of the characters – Inés, Ernesto and their teenage daughter Lali whose own trauma is relayed via short chapters of dialogue – are beautifully crafted which is a credit to the author given how little of them there actually is in this novella length story. But their level of narcissism and shallowness did not make them the kind of people I want to spend time with.
The structure of the book is interesting and mostly successful though I’m not convinced of the need for the few chapters which purported to be extracts from forensic texts discovered in Inés’ custody. But the narration by Inés, displaying her increasingly bizarre thought processes and behaviour is well done and the chapters of dialogue that Lali has with her best friend and others manage to say a lot with very few words.
I’m now at the end of the review and realise I’ve described more good things than bad about the book yet still I feel as if I didn’t really like it. At least not as much as I expected I would. Perhaps in the end I’ve not been able to separate my intense dislike for the two main characters and their shallow existence from my feelings about the book as a whole. Which is a little troubling because I often claim not to need to like characters in order to like a book.
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Translator Miranda France
Publisher Bitter Lemon Press [this translation 2011, original edition 2006]
Length 172 pages
Book Series standalone
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
In 1976 Argentina’s Dirty War had begun and its environment of state-sponsored illegal arrests, torture, killing and forced disappearances provides a brutal backdrop for what would otherwise be a simple tale of a policeman investigating a murder. Superintendent Lascano is asked to follow up on a report of two bodies being found but when he arrives at the site there are three bodies. Two are of young people who were clearly killed by the Junta’s death squads and their deaths will not be investigated further but the third body is an older man’s which appears to have nothing to do with the others. It is this death that Lascano decides to investigate and he learns it is the body of an Auschwitz survivor who is now an almost universally loathed money-lender.
I have ranted at length about the enormous (seemingly unedited) tomes that are produced in such numbers these days so it is worth noting that I did a little happy dance when I opened this book on my eReader and found it to be 192 pages short. If anyone needs evidence that an engaging, thoughtful story can be told in less than a house brick sized lump they need look no further than the rather haunting Needle in a Haystack. Told from the perspective of several different characters and not in chronological order, the story comes together as a kind of literary jigsaw puzzle with some pieces being found early and having to lie on the table for a while, awaiting their connecting pieces to appear before the full picture could become clear. The book’s snappy length enabled this to be a very successful storytelling mechanism.
There are very memorable characters here, both good and evil. Lascano is a widower who has struggled to come to terms with his wife’s death and the scenes describing his home, from which nothing of hers has been removed, are sad but very credible. His determination to his job, in the face of widespread corruption and overt threats is also credibly portrayed. Some of the most memorable characters have only fleeting appearances, like the General’s wife who thinks the baby she has adopted hates her, but they are all beautifully drawn.
I must admit I found the long blocks of italicised text which eschewed quotation marks and other punctuation a little off-putting as they slowed down my reading pace and I’m still not sure what the format was meant to add to the story. Also the sex scene which spoke of Lascano’s ‘sex being reborn and wanting to fly’ just made me laugh and the schmaltzy tone of the whole scene seemed out of place with the rest of the book. Overall though these are minor quibbles about an excellent book which is both a sound mystery and an unsentimental depiction of what must have been a horrifying time to live through.
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This book has been reviewed at Crime Scraps, Euro Crime and Petrona and is one of 7 shortlisted titles for the 2011 CWA International Dagger Award
I’m using this as the second book for the South American leg of this year’s global challenge
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My rating 4/5
Translator Jethro Soutar
Publisher Bitter Lemon Press [this translation 2010, original edition 2005]
Length 192 pages
Book Series The first in a trilogy (I believe the second has been translated into English and will be released soon)
Source I bought it
My first stop in South America and the 11th book overall for the global reading challenge took me to Argentina and was chosen based on reviews at Petrona and The Game is Afoot.
In a wealthy gated community called Cascade Heights (or something all together more melodic sounding in Spanish I’m sure) in the hills outside Buenos Aries four men meet each Thursday night for cards, drinking and whatever else four wealthy men might do together. On one particular Thursday night three of the men lie dead in a swimming pool and the fourth, Ronie Guevara is in hospital with a broken leg.
Thursday Night Widows opens with a description of these events and then tells the story of the months, even years, that led up to this night through the eyes of the women who live in Cascade Heights. Much of the story is told from Virginia Guevara’s perspective because as the only real estate agent for the community she sees and knows all, writing many of her secrets in her red notebook, but there are chapters told from the perspective of the other ‘widows’ and several other women in the community too. From the outside it is a community that anyone would want to be part of offering safety, a chance to show off your wealth and the security of only having to mix with your social equals. But beneath the surface there are many tensions including people who have lost the jobs that afford them the status to stay in Cascade Heights and domestic abuse of various kinds. The time period of the book’s setting is in the period following the September 11 attacks in the US when a currency inflation crisis is beginning to squeeze the economy of Argentina and these world events play their role in this isolated community too.
The people depicted here really are quite morally abhorrent with their endless attention to status and the way they will be perceived and their total disregard for the people around them including, often, their own families. But Piñeiro just tells people’s stories, warts and all, and allows readers to draw their own conclusions. It’s a stretch to say any of the characters end up being entirely sympathetic but the way their stories unfold explains things in a way that a more judgmental style of writing could never have done.
Thursday Night Widows turned out to be an excellent choice for the global reading challenge as, like the best crime fiction always does, it reflected its setting in a really engaging way. I found it a very easy, quick read although it might not have enough crime for the die-hard action fans out there. However as a window into a community you might never see otherwise I highly recommend it.
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My rating 4/5
Translator Miranda France; Publisher Bitter Lemon Press [this translation 2009, originally 2005]; ISBN 9781904738411; Length 278 pages
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