'In an exclusive gated community 30 miles outside of Buenos Aires, Maria Virginia works as a real-estate agent after her husband loses his job. Readers gradually become acquainted with the rich families of the Heights through Maria, who is privy to their secrets, selling them their homes while living in the community herself. But she is always a bit of an outsider, one of the few women who work, and when the
bodies of three of the most prominent men in the community are found dead in a neighbor's backyard pool, she must decide where her loyalties lie, since her husband was visiting the three men shortly before their deaths. A fast-paced thriller, Pineiro's novel describes and critiques the lifestyles of Argentina's nouveau riche, chronicling their rise into the exclusive world of the Heights and their downfalls as the economy sours after 9/11. An excellent choice for fans of international crime stories.' - Booklist
'Claudia Piñeiro's Thursday Night Widows is an interesting novel. Published by the wonderfully named Bitter Lemon Press, which is now a favorite (I'll be taking a close look at their backlist), it's a crime novel with little attention paid for the greater part of the story, to the actual crime. It opens with the deaths of three men, but there are no detectives, no investigation and almost no concern with who perpetrated the crime. Rather this is a dissection of the small, tight-knit community where the deaths took place. The story doesn't revolve so much around the discovery of the who as to an illumination of the why, very much reminiscent of Barbara Vine's exceptional psychological novels.
Outside Buenos Aires The Cascade is a beacon to those upwardly mobile and affluent families with cash to burn and lavish lifestyles to pursue.
"Our neighbourhood is a gated community, ringed by a perimeter fence that is concealed behind different kinds of shrub. It's called The Cascade Heights Country Club. Most of us shorten the name to "The Cascade" and a few people call it "The Heights". It has a golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool and two club houses. And private security. Fifteen security guards working shifts during the day, and twenty-two at night. That's more than five hundred acres of land, accessible only to us or to people authorized by one of us."
Ronie and Virginia Guevara were one of the first couples to invest in a posh property at The Cascade, and not just as a weekend retreat but as a permanent home. The 1990s saw a financial boom that meant fortunes were made and families could lead lives of privilege completely unknown to those living outside those gates. Over time more and more families, and it is always only families, move to The Cascade. The Cascade is a community of elegant homes with perfectly manicured lawns. Impeccably groomed husbands set off for the office early in their Land Rovers. And their equally impeccably groomed wives spend their afternoons learning to paint pretty pictures and take classes in the arts of flower arranging and feng shui. Their children go to the best school where they can learn to speak perfect English. Weekends are spent playing rounds of golf or tennis doubles. And everyone is friends. By all appearances this is a picture perfect little community. But there's a darker side.
Soon after the opening of the novel, however, cracks begin to show on the shiny veneer of The Cascade and the lives of it's residents. On Thursday September 27, 2001, just weeks after the Twin Towers fell in New York City, three men lay dead at the bottom of 'El Tano' Scaglia's swimming pool. The widows of the novel are the wives whose husbands spend Thursday nights playing cards and drinking, though now ironically they are widows literally as well as figuratively. Except Virginia. Ronie came home from that last card game early.
The novel quickly sweeps backwards in time and the reader gets an accounting of the various families and how they came to end up living in The Cascade. Claudia Piñeiro has an interesting narrative style, perhaps not so surprising since she was a journalist, playwright and scriptwriter. She writes in a crisp, precise and direct prose and uses both first and third person perspectives. Virginia tells much of the story in her own voice, and she knows a lot about The Cascade since she is an estate agent and sold most of the properties. She knows their stories. But the reader also learns about the other women and their families. There's a long cast of characters, but Piñeiro manages to convey a distinct impression of the lives these people lead even if characters come and go. Few of them are especially likable, but I found them intensely fascinating. As the story progresses the lives of the characters begin spinning out of control. Reading this novel was a little like being a fly on the wall privy to all that happens--good or bad, and the deeper you look under the surface, usually it was bad.
Thursday Night Widows is really as much a contemporary morality tale as a crime novel. Money doesn't bring happiness and every bubble must burst, which it did financially in Argentina beginning in 2001. Piñeiro slowly reveals the truths behind the facade that The Cascade is. The contrast between those in this wealthy gated community and those living in poverty just outside the barriers couldn't be starker. Despite their outwardly idyllic appearance, the residents of The Cascade couldn't have emptier or more untruthful lives. Perhaps morally bankrupt really is the best term, but not just morally but financially as well. All the dirty little secrets begin coming out--indiscretions, infidelities, prejudices, jealousies and lies. Piñeiro rips open and leaves bare the souls of these people.
By the time the denouement is revealed I wasn't especially surprised though she does an excellent job building up to it, but that didn't in any way leave me disappointed. Piñeiro manages to twist things around at the end just a little, which I found satisfying. This is a story, or rather a lesson, that could easily be applied to any number of places in the western world today, but Piñeiro gives this story a decidedly cultural slant to it. Although these events could happen anywhere, this particular story is set firmly just outside Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was an interesting look at a place I know little about.
Thursday Night Widows won the Clarín Prize for fiction in 2005. This has been made into a movie directed by Macelo Piñeyro. You can see the trailer for Las Viudas de los Jueves here. I'm hoping it makes its way to the US eventually, as the novel had a cinematic quality to it that would translate well into film. I've already started reading German author Petra Hammesfahr's The Lie next, which is another Bitter Lemon title. Hopefully all their books will be the same high caliber as Thursday Night Widows. And hopefully more of Claudia Piñeiro's books will be translated into English.' - Work in Progress
'The adjective that comes to mind when considering Sergio Bizzio's novel Rage, is Ballardian. That may seem like praise, but it's hard to say. Ballard's novels are novels of disconnection and alienation, of men and women who are ciphers even to themselves, drifting through the modern world distanced from any real human connections by technology and the strange, solitary, sanitized nature of modern life. In short, Ballard was preoccupied with the death of community, and the great lengths people will go to to feel something, anything. As such, they are often difficult to read. They're certainly not what Graham Greene would have labeled "entertainments."
While, Rage, is a novel of isolation, similar to say, Concrete Island, where a man is stranded in a secret world on an island in the middle of a highway, it is also shot through with a Marxist critique of a decaying society where the gap between the rich and the poor is so large that the poor can, quite literally, disappear in the huge, empty homes of the doomed rich. It is also a novel of strong emotions, as the title implies, and strong emotions are often lacking in Ballard's work.
Jose Maria, a construction worker, falls in love with Rosa, the beautiful, but poor housekeeper of a rich Argentine family. At first, things are going well, as the two find time to be together, but then Jose Maria kills his foreman in a fit of rage and goes into hiding. He picks, as his hiding spot, the huge home of Rosa employers, where he takes up residence in a room no one uses. In his new role as fugitive and voyeur, Jose Maria spies on his former lover as well as the family for whom she works. He learns their secrets, and witnesses their bad behavior. He uses the home's second line to sneak secret phone calls to Rosa, but will not tell her his whereabouts.
He does adopt a role as her protector and avenger, however. When one family member rapes her, Jose Maria kills him and tries to make it look like an accident. The family quickly covers it up to prevent disgrace. When Rosa's new boyfriend knocks her up and refuses to take responsibility, Jose Maria sneaks out of the house and murders him as well. From there, he takes up the improbable role of invisible father, forcing a shady relative to deliver money to Rosa, and sneaking time with the baby once he is born.
Of course, Jose Maria can't hide from Rosa forever. Their reunion, and the end of the book overall, are somewhat puzzling. Without getting into spoilers, it's a little difficult to decipher Jose Maria's fate is supposed to mean. Then again, maybe that's just another way Bizzio is similar to Ballard.' - Indiecrime
'I just finished the very impressive novel, Thursday Night Widows written by Argentinean novelist, Claudia Pineiro. The story is set in Cascade Heights, an exclusive gated country estate thirty miles from Buenos Aires. The novel begins in September 2001 with the discovery of three dead men at the bottom of a pool, and then the novel backtracks over the past decade. Ultimately, Thursday Night Widows is a scathing psychological analysis of a class and a country seen through the narrow vision of one group of families who enjoy bloated, materialistic lives while ignoring the collapse of their society.
Told partly through the eyes of real-estate agent Virginia Guevara, the novel explores life in Cascade Heights-a walled in estate which encompasses 500 acres and 300 homes, and the worth of those homes increases with proximity to the perfectly manicured golf course. Naturally only Argentina's 'best' families live there with most of the wives becoming avid consumers at home while their husbands travel by luxury car to work in the city. Marooned in "The Cascades " the families are divorced from society and develop relationships with each other based on status and strict hierarchy. The high perimeter wall and dozens of guards keep out undesirables, crime and poverty, while creating a false world inside the estate. Lawns must 'match,' no fences or barriers are permitted, certain colours are 'allowed,' but these are all only external signalments of conformity. As the couples mingle and socialize, certain behaviour (excessive drinking, spousal abuse, subtle and not-so-subtle rascism) is largely ignored. Everyone adheres to the unspoken agreement of conformity and pack behaviour with El Tano Scagli, one of the estate's most affluent men, and owner of one of the largest homes, dominating the other subordinate males.
Virginia Guevara, one of the rare Cascade wives to be employed, works to keep the family afloat, and notes the up-and-coming newcomers, along with the decline in fortunes of those forced to leave this fabricated, upscale Eden. The novel covers the affluence of the 90s and the rapid decline of Argentina's economy through the ripple-out consequences felt in Cascade Heights. To the wives who live there, the outside world doesn't exist, and while the perimeter wall and the guards manage to keep the poor and undesirables out of sight, nonetheless the social problems of Argentina still manage to creep through. In this fashion, the history of Cascade Heights becomes a reflection of Argentina's problems, but with Argentina's economy becoming a 'reality' only as it impacts the Cascades. At one point, Virginia mentions the "Antieri episode "-the suicide of a military man. Virginie and her husband, pick up the Antieri house "for next to nothing " when they move to The Cascades in the late 80s. Suicides, divorces, and bankruptcies all take their toll as the financial systems of Argentina wax and wane. Here's Virginia talking about Argentina's boom years:
"It was about two years later that I sold a plot of land to the Scaglias. This was a few days after the Minister for Foreign Affairs became the Finance Minister he had always been destined to be and persuaded Congress to pass the Convertibility Law. One peso would be worth one dollar: the famous 'one for one' that restored Argentines' confidence and fuelled an exodus to places like Cascade Heights. "
Covering the late 80s until Argentina's 2001 economic collapse, Thursday Night Widows is a stunning analysis of a social class. The smug upper classes flock to The Cascades, creating a sleek, affluent Utopia in which the poor are only allowed in wearing uniforms; "as a general rule, if someone is walking and not carrying sports gear, it's a domestic servant or gardener. " Every ugly reality is either hidden, ignored or ejected from this well-heeled paradise. Couples move in and then sell out-usually due to some horrible misfortune, and the novel records it all from the cluelessness of most of the wives, to the rebelliousness of some of the children:
"The thing is, many of our neighbours made the mistake of thinking that they could keep spending as much as they earned forever. And what they earned was a lot, and seemed eternal. But there comes a day when the taps are turned off, although nobody expects it until they find themselves in the bath tub, covered in soap, looking up at the showerhead, from which not a single drop of water falls anymore. "
The scenes which include interactions between the Cascade wives and their servants resonant with bitter cynicism. In one section of the novel, some of the bored wives decide to form a charity and call themselves "The Ladies of the Heights. " In one great scene the tanned, spoiled wives organize a jumble sale for charity, selling their cast off clothing and underwear. The jumble sale is "exclusively for the maids " and the maids are then expected to come and buy the discarded clothing they'd normally be given as handouts. You'd think the wives' hypocrisy would stick in their throats but it doesn't, and the wives consider they are better people for throwing crumbs to their maids and then making them pay for the privilege. But even though the wives are mostly clueless about their selfish, crass behaviour, the author still maintains sympathy for some of her characters-the wives are kept like exotic pets and then discarded as they age or deteriorate. Some of the Cascade wives have husbands who refuse to work, and so these women juggle the affluent lifestyle with debts and a lot of pretense.
I expected a crime novel, but Thursday Night Widows is much more than this-primarily a compelling tale, and at no point did the tale seem forced to fit an agenda or a point of view. Upscale, exclusive (and excluding) housing estates such as The Cascades don't just exist in Argentina, and wherever they crop up, they tend to condition residents into conformity and homogenous pack behaviour. You couldn't pay me to live in one of these sorts of communities, but I've seen them, and I've seen the sort of people who live in them. People of similar material circumstances prefer living with others who enjoy the same standard of living. It may be natural, but as the novel shows, add a wall, guards, and a few rules, and the result isn't healthy.
Thursday Nights Widows by Claudia Pineiro is translated by Miranda France. With any luck director Marcelo Pineyro's film version, Las Viudas de los Jueves, should make DVD release soon. ' - Swiftlytiltingplanet.wordpress.com
'Claudia Piñeiro's Thursday Night Widows presents itself as a thriller. Yet even though in the opening we have three dead bodies in a pool and are promised an investigation of how they came to be there, this novel has more in common with Camus, or with DeLillo, than with a standard thriller. The bodies remain decaying in that pool for most of the novel while the real preoccupations are exhibited: the decay of Argentine society in 2001, the misery inherent in its class system, the hypocrisy. The families in the novel live in a gated community outside Buenos Aires. It is immediately following the 9/11 attacks, but even more importantly in the midst of Argentina's great financial crisis. The upper middle class, with whom the novel deals, sees the value of its currency go down to a quarter of its previous value. Regardless, the families in the Cascades community continue their parties, their affairs, their false dealings. They have tried to separate themselves from their country's woes, to create a cocoon, by their move into a protected isolation. The bodies show the impossibility of such a separation.
Ultimately of course Piñeiro's story is not only about Argentina, but is a dystopian tale about the West as a whole, about affluence and the undermining of personal relationships that it brings about. The idyllic bubble bursts. Wealth does not and cannot protect. If there is any hope at all, it is in the breakdown of the social structures, of the prejudices, in the discovery of the common humanity of all. Carmen, one of the sheltered wealthy women, reacts to her husband's desertion by forging a bond with her Paraguayan servant, Gabina. And to the shock of the community, Gabina no longer wears a uniform; Carmen and Gabina eat together, laughing, in the club restaurant. The moneyed eventually succeed in thrusting them out of their protected world. The machinations and intrigues continue. "Death was somehow abroad in the atmosphere…and nobody could shake off their bewilderment." The downward spiral of destruction continues and one of the narrators observes that "everything going on around me was more than I could take in." After the surprise twist denouement, for most of the characters fear of the future prevails. Piñeiro's disquieting novel is recommended not only to readers of stylish thrillers but also to all readers of serious literature.' - Belletrista
'Near the start of Piñeiro's clever U.S. debut, which won Argentina's Clarin Prize for fiction and has been made into a film, the bodies of three well-to-do men-El Tano Scaglia, Martín Urovich and Gustavo Masotta-turn up in the Scaglias' swimming pool in Cascades Heights, a gated community outside Buenos Aires. The three men, along with Ronie Guevara, regularly had dinner on Thursday nights at one of their houses in this exclusive enclave. The search for the truth behind their deaths takes a backseat to the soap operaish goings-on of the Cascade Heights set, as seen in flashbacks largely through the eyes of Guevara's realtor wife, Virginia. Readers with an interest in contemporary Argentina will appreciate how this crime novel illuminates the hypocrisies of the country's upper classes after 9/11.' - Publishers Weekly
'Desperate Housewives in Argentina-Thursday Night Widows is a funny, engrossing and beautifully written social commentary about a group of wealthy women living in a gated community on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Virginia Guevara is an estate agent who specializes in selling properties in the country club estate of Cascade Heights. She knows pretty much all there is to know about her neighbours. Her circle of friends is led by Teresa and El Tano Scaglia. Mariana Andrade has two adopted children and a husband, ernesto, who is ostesibly a lawyer, but may not be. Carla Masotta is beaten by husband Gustavo. Lala and martin Urovich talk about moving to Miami. Their lives revolve around games of tennis, dinner parties and the comings and goings of their neighbours. The locked gates of the Heights, complete with security guards, shield them from the crime, poverty and filth outside. But the Scaglias and their friends hide secrets of infidelity, financial problems, drug use and alcoholism. And after the 9/11 Twin Towers atrocity in New York, the world's economy begins to destabilize, their husbands lose their jobs and their idyllic lifestyles are under threat. Then tragedy strikes.
The book starts with the tragedy, then goes back to see what leads up to it, in short chapters told by various of the women.
Thursday Night Widows is the first of best-selling author Claudia Piñeiro's crime novels to be translated into English. It is also being turned into a film in Argentina.'
- Newham Recorder
'Recently translated into English, this new release by an Argentinean author opens with a gruesome bang as three bodies lie unnoticed at the bottom of a swimming pool in the upscale Cascade Heights neighborhood. Safely ensconced in their gated community, Ronie Guevara, El Tano Scaglia, Gustavo Mastta and Martin Urovich got together every Thursday night for dinner and drinks, that is until one fateful night. What follows is a roundabout tale leading up to the murders that showcases the elitist attitudes of the rich as they ignore the plight of their country on the verge of anarchy and those living in abject poverty.
Primarily told from the perspective of Ronie's wife Virginia, a successful realtor catering to the wealthy, the story unfolds to reveal the glaring inequities between the disconnected rich and the average Argentinean. While many of the characters reactions seem over the top and the multiple murders takes a back seat to the overall story, it is an interesting read with a cautionary message to the privileged.' - Monsters and Critics
'As Argentina falls apart due to an economic collapse of incredible proportions just after 9/11, the country seems on the verge of anarchy with no place that is safe. That is except for the well to do living in gated communities that insulate them from what is going on outside except for the TV news and their outside employment.
In the Buenos Aires gated community Cascade Heights, four men (El Tano Scaglia, Martín Urovich Gustavo Masotta and Ronie Guevara) have dinner together every Thursday night. However, this time is different as three lie dead in the swimming pool at the most affluent Scaglia home; only Guevara who left early remains alive. How could this happen especially to someone as influential and powerful as El Tano is on the minds of their family members as all assume a horrific electrical accident occurred. However, Virginia Guevara though curious and shocked fears for her Ronie who behaves strangely since the incident and she believes he knows something more.
This is an interesting look at an Argentina in which the upper class behaved like Nero fiddling away while the country collapsed. The story line is mostly told through Virginia's eyes as a successful realtor to the wealthy. Although insightful with a strong cast who warn readers to beware of growing exponential gaps between the affluent and the middle class, the mystery of the pool takes a back seat to the discerning look at the gilded life behind the gated community.' - MBR Bookwatch
'Nominally a thriller, Thursday Night Widows is less concerned with the 'whodunnit' aspects of plotting than with a psychological dissection of a social class obsessed with bickering and petty jealousies as the pillars of their world dissolve. As the financial crash reveals the fragility of their affluence, the inhabitants of Cascade Heights become increasingly morally bankrupt, and the secrets and lies of their empty lives become unsustainable. Claudia Pineiro's atmospheric writing, deftly switching between characters and subtly revealing their inner doubts and fears, feeds a mounting tension as the book builds towards a revelation about the bodies in the swimming pool. Thursday Night Widows is a fine morality tale which explores the dark places societies enter when they place material comfort before social justice, and security before morality.' - Publishers Weekly
'THURSDAY NIGHT WIDOWS is the first book of Argentinian author Claudia Pineiro's to be translated into English and I hope that there's plenty more to come.
A few pages into the THURSDAY NIGHT WIDOWS we are told that there are three bodies in the swimming pool of the most desirable house in the Cascade Heights Country Club (ie a gated housing estate). It's a Thursday in September 2001, and as usual three of the neighbours in The Cascade have joined El Tano (the informal leader of the estate) for food, film and drink, leaving their wives, the "Thursday night widows" behind. This Thursday however, Virginia's husband Ronie returns early in a strange mood and a subsequent accident has him rushed off to hospital. The story then goes back a few years and introduces the many families that have moved to The Cascade and the fortunes that have beset them (usually bad) over the years. The point of view is often Virginia's but also other named members of the community contribute and sometimes it's an unidentified resident narrating.
Gradually all the information we've gleaned about the families starts to form a whole and possibilities come to mind as to what might have happened at El Tano's home.
Despite the lack of criminal activity in this book, I loved reading the THURSDAY NIGHT WIDOWS. It held my interest with its gossipy tone and incidental humour - a lot of what the well-heeled residents think and say is ironically amusing eg:
"The river that crosses hole fifteen was here before we arrived. But we purified it. Now it's a more turquoise green, thanks to water treatment, and the introduction of certain algae which keep the ecosystem aerated. The fish that were there before the purification have died. They were undistinguished fish, a sort of bream, brownish-coloured. "
But their attitudes also include casual racism and discrimination, such as a servant not being allowed to bring food out to the guests as she was deemed too ugly.
THURSDAY NIGHT WIDOWS takes a long look at the privileged and their lifestyle, living 30 miles away from the city and who need armed security men to protect them from their poverty stricken neighbours. What's also interesting is seeing Argentina from an insider's point of view as little news items are dropped in through the narrative. I recommend this book heartily but be aware that it's more Desperate Housewives than CSI.'
'Thursday Night Widows is another top class crime fiction novel from Bitter Lemon Press. A brilliant social commentary on Cascade Heights, a country club gated community outside Buenos Aires, the novel won the Clarin Prize for fiction in 2005 and the film of the book will be released in Argentina on 10 September. This is the first, but I hope not the last, of Claudia Pineiro's novels to be available in English. The author lives in Buenos Aires, and was a journalist, playwright and television scriptwriter before turning to writing fiction.
I do like books with clever back stories, and this story begins when Ronie Guevara falls off his balcony as the jazz that was wafting over from his neighbour El Tano Scaglia's house stops in the middle of a riff.
The bodies of El Tano and the two friends Martin Urovich, and Gustavo Masotta are found in the pool the next morning. The four men, including Ronie, had met up every Thursday night to drink, talk, listen to music and play truco [a popular card game in Argentina].
The reasons for this tragedy are then told in a series of back stories some narrated in the first person by Ronie's wife Virginia, a real estate agent who keeps copious notes about her "friends" in a little red book, with others told in the third person relate to various other families living in Cascade Heights.
These privileged lives revolve around games of tennis, golf, swimming pools, art classes, private schools and dinner parties all behind fences and gates protected by armed security guards. While their gardeners, workmen, uniformed maids and nannies make their idyllic lives even more distant from the poverty, and crime in the tough world outside Cascade Heights.
But this luxurious facade hides unhappiness, spousal abuse, infidelity, jealousies and above all financial difficulties in a country where the economy is dreadfully unstable, and husbands can lose their jobs.
The economy minister had resigned and the new one appointed by the president had lasted only fifteen days. He made a speech, he asked for belt-tightening, he made a trip to Chile and when he came back- no more job.
This is a very clever novel full of sharply drawn observations which brilliantly covers a vast array of subjects in less than 300 pages. I am not sure whether you could really call it crime fiction, although there is a crime, it is more of a devastating sociological dissection of upper middle class values in Argentina.
The book is full of caustic anecdotes and wonderful character portraits, if the film is released locally I will be one of the first in the rush to the cinema.
"Can you ever really become friends with someone you got to know through his wallet?" And then she answered the question herself in a note at the foot of the page: "All misery is routed through the wallet."
This is a book definitely not to be missed, although it might make slightly uncomfortable reading in places.
"By the time she emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, Antonia had already returned from school, tidied her bedroom and left a breakfast tray on the bedside table; now she was picking up the clothes left scattered around the bed. These women obviously have a different biorhythm, thought Mariana; they are pack mules. And she lay down on the bed for another five minutes.' Crime Scraps
- Crime Scraps
'Thursday Night Widows, by the Argentine writer Claudia Piñeiro, makes excellent use of the formula whereby the reader knows from the outset who has died in suspicious circumstances, but not the reasons. The deceased are three friends in the comfortable gated community of Cascade Heights, near Buenos Aires. At the end of their regular get-together, their bodies are found in the host's swimming pool. The rest of the novel records the history of the three over the years, and of other residents of the posh enclave. Gradually, the apparently contented façade of the affluent middle class is stripped of its pretentions, revealing its ugly secrets and hypocricies. Piñeiro is particularly skilful at exposing the social forces undermining Argentine society, and the fragility of personal relationships. We learn the surprising truth of the three men's death in the final chapter; the build-up to it is riveting.' - The Times
'Thursday Night Widows is a remarkable novel. Without taking any editorial or judgemental line on the characters it describes, it relates the story of some wealthy Argentinian families who live in an exclusive gated community, or Country Club, outside Buenos Aries. The estate is a desirable destination for well-off people when they feel restricted by their apartments in the city, when they want to start a family, and enjoy the fruits of their considerable wealth.
The story is told from the perspectives of many of the female residents, most often Virginia, a wife whose husband Ronie has lost his job and shows no inclination to find another one. Hence Virginia has turned her hobby of tipping off acquaintances when a property is about to come onto the market into a profession. As an estate agent, she is first to know whose marriage is in trouble or who is on the brink of financial disaster, and also acts as a gatekeeper to keep out unsuitable potential residents (the racism is very ugly).
The wives in this novel do not work in the sense of having a regular job. They all have maids who take their children to the nearby exclusive school which teaches its lessons in English. They have servants, gardeners, drivers and nannies, whom they treat with casual nastiness. One of the wives is an alcoholic; another becomes a kind of "landscape architect ", a role that mainly consists of telling the neighbours what sort of (expensive) plants they should buy; and another is a depressive who joins a local artists' group. All of them are united by the tennis and golf club, by the social mores of their neighbours, and by "the Association " that makes everyone keep to the (increasingly ludicrous) rules of the Country Club by the threat of either social ostracism or a hefty fine.
Inevitably there are some shoots of resistance in this utopia, mainly from the younger generation. Juani, Virginia and Ronie's adolescent son, persistently gets into trouble with his school for his honesty and lack of hypocrisy. Romana, his friend, is an unwanted adoptee, and she also tries to live according to her own principles. Her story and character are perhaps the most attractive, and sad, in the book. There is also a lovely section in which one of the wives, now a divorcee, is reunited with a former maid sacked by her husband.
Thursday Night Wives is written with deceptive lightness, creating a closed world in which I was fascinated, as it is so different from anything I've ever experienced. Because the author refuses to judge any of her characters, however unsympathetic, the reader is almost unaware of the grossly distorted morality of these ludicrously pampered women, with their wasted, empty lives bought at the expense of other people. The men are somewhat more detached as characters, but for them, too, appearance is all - the master of the tennis court or golf club is the highest of the social stratum, and it is taken for granted that they all earn vast quantities of money that their wives can spend at will.
It is the cracking of this front that forms the "crime " in this novel. Although there is no way out of the chains that many of these compromised people have made for themselves, at the end of the book a few of the characters have the choice of returning to reality - a choice that I hope they will take.
This novel is a hilarious yet telling social satire, extremely readable and well translated by Miranda France. Although only just published in English, it was written in 2005, when the Argentine currency inflation was out of control and the characters are terrified by the potential effects of the 9/11 atrocity. Not only is the book a fascinating harbinger of the financial crisis that hit so many other parts of the world a few years later, but also, according to the publisher's blurb, it "eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media. " Do yourself a favour, and read it.' - Petrona
'A razor-sharp psychological and social portrait not only of Argentina, but of the affluent Western world as a whole.' - Rosa Montero
'Claudia Piñeiro's Thursday Night Widows (from Bitter Lemon Press, translated by Miranda France) portrays a gated community outside Buenos Aires that is a kind of Potemkin village, except that here it's not the buildings that are false façades but the people. The surface of the novel is the surface of the characters' lives, and what lies behind (Argentinian politics, the collapse of the economy, the prejudice of Euro-Argentinians against indigenous people and the lower classes, the lies and disturbances within the families, and domestic violence of the physical and emotional variety) is mostly implied between the lines rather than directly portrayed. The novel is told in chapters from a number of characters points of view (the wives whose husbands play cards on Thursday nights, hence the title, but also the maids, husbands, a few of the children), creating a kaleidoscopic portrait of a middle class haven and hell. The novel begins with fear and death in 2001, just after 9/11, and then backtracks through several families' arrival in Cascade Heights, a "Desperate Housewives" neighborhood determined to isolate itself from society's threats. Despite the violence of the beginning, and the threat that a number of characters feel from one of the husbands (El Tano Scaglia), this is not a conventional crime novel, and not a thriller (the story is episodic rather than concentrated on a single thriller plotline). It's satire, but not cold or bloodless: the characters are too vivid and their misery (and the misery they inflict on others) too real. Piñeiro is performing an autopsy on a group that attempts to isolate itself from any threat or responsibility from or toward the rest of the culture and society, creating a vivid portrait of the gated community and the wider social fabric. The "daily," ordinary quality of the narrative and the pretentious middle-class characters didn't grab me at first, but Piñeiro soon pulled me in through the satirical approach to the characters (as well as a few more sympathetic characters, particularly two of the children), through the hints of what is going on behind the façades, and through startling vignettes like a series of "altars" created in one of the homes by one of the wives after she abandons the gated lifestyle for something more honest, primitive, and more openly vindictive. The ending leaves a resolution hanging in the balance as the one woman who addresses the reader in her own voice drives away from the community with her family on a mission that might destroy at least some of the artificiality and dissimulation that has gone on inside the gates.' - International Noir Fiction
'An agile novel written in a language perfectly pitched for the subject matter, a ruthless dissection of a fast decaying society.' - José Saramago
Since the late 1980's, middle-class Argentines have been abandoning their high-rise apartment blocks in Buenos Aires, to live out a rural fantasy in gated communities called, in the Spanglish favoured by bogus anglophones', "countrys ". In 2002, a murder at the exclusive Carmel gated estate in the suburb of Pilar stirred up a media furore, but as ever in Argentina, no one was sentenced for the crime. Claudia Piñeiro's novel, which under its Spanish title Las viudas de los jueves, won the prestigious Clarin prize for fiction in 2005, makes use of this story.
There is a crime scene at the start and a thriller plot, but Piñeiro's novel is also engaging as a fictionalized sociological essay. Her gated narrators-an estate agent called Virginia and an unnamed co-resident-give us plenty of insights into the claustrophobic realities of life inside the luxurious compound: golf for the men, charity sales for the women, tennis for both; the children attend exclusive schools and spend most of their time with their Paraguayan and Peruvian maids; powerful men let out their anxieties in bouts of internet porn and bestiality. There are suicides, betrayals, lawless powerbroking and cringing exercises in keeping up appearances. Through it all, the impeccable lawns are mown, the huge swimming pools kept clean, and the outer walls watched over by security guards. It is a landscape familiar to readers of J.G. Ballard, but the Argentinian version is realistically extreme, because Argentina is so backward in its development, and its ruling class lacks any ethos of social mobility.
Opening with bodies in the pool and a strong stench of corruption on the jasmine-scented air, the novel traces the growth of moral decadence and suppressed violence among its characters. Piñeiro captures the voice of the female residents nicely, and deftly avoids bringing in the police to sort out matters. This is a convincing portrayal of the state of things in Argentina, where the police always arrive long after a crime has been committed and the perpetrator made his getaway. Thanks to a fluid translation by Miranda France, Thursday Night Widows is a gripping story; rather like the maids and guards, we stand by and watch evil enter the lives of an obtuse, decadent, pseudo-community. Piñeiro builds up tension through banal, domestic details and the accretion of despair in everyday marital and professional struggles. There may be bloody murder at the centre of this novel, but the dystopia portrayed is an indictment not solely of an assassin but of Argentina's class structure and the willful blindness of its petty bourgeoisie.' - TLS Times Literary Supplement