Three bodies lie at the bottom of a swimming pool in a gated country estate near Buenos Aires. It’s Thursday night at the magnificent Scaglia house. Behind the locked gates, shielded from the crime, poverty, and filth of the people on the streets, the Scaglias and their friends hide lives of infidelity, alcoholism, and abusive marriage.
Claudia Piñeiro’s novel eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media. But this is more than a story about crime. The suspense is a by-product of Piñeiro’s hand at crafting a psychological portrait of a professional class that lives beyond its means and leads secret lives of deadly stress and despair. It takes place during the post-9/11 economic meltdown in Argentina, but it is a universal story that will resonate among credit-crunched readers of today.
I was intrigued by Thursday Night Widows as soon as I read the blurb. It wasn’t quite what I expected – in a good way! – and I enjoyed the social commentary that, despite the novel’s Argentinian setting, is applicable to most places.
It begins on a Thursday evening in 2001 as a small group of men meet to play poker, abandoning their wives for an evening. This Thursday proves a little different to most, however, as three men are discovered at the bottom of a swimming pool. Rather than focussing on this directly – who they are, how they got there – Piñeiro then takes a step back to look at the exclusive gated community, Cascade Heights, in which these events take place, examining the lives of those who live there in the years leading up to this event. It’s a slightly unusual approach, but it’s one that works well as the reader remains curious about the men in the pool while gradually discovering more about them and their situation.
The characters living within Cascade Heights are, by and large, unlikeable. There are a few notable exceptions to this, but I feel that this is a community comprised of people who look down their noses at those less fortunate than themselves, revelling in their own wealth with little concern for others, wasteful in the way that only the wealthy can be. Much is made of the seemingly perfect lives of these families, but it proves to be a thin veneer, and many of these families are experiencing problems which they will go to some lengths to keep hidden simply in order to maintain appearances. The irony is that the problems faced are all too common – redundancies, affairs, alcoholism etc. – these people and their problems are utterly normal, despite their pretensions.
Thursday Night Widows is told with a dash of dark humour, ridiculing the stereotypes used in the novel that will seem familiar whatever country you’re from. There’s an element of mystery to it, although not in a traditional sense of there being clues to discover and red herrings to avoid as you try to work out what’s happened. Rather, it uses the discovery of the three men to provide an astute social commentary on those who revel in their own wealth, believing themselves untouchable until events prove otherwise. Addressing themes of class and privilege, this is a slow yet engaging read that felt relevant today – despite being set almost twenty years ago! – given the current economic climate.
Thursday Night Widows is published by Bitter Lemon Press. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for my copy of the novel and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
About the Author
Claudia Piñeiro was a journalist, playwright, and television scriptwriter and in 1992 won the prestigious Pléyade Annual Journalism Award. She has more recently turned to fiction and is the author of literary crime novels that are all bestsellers in Latin America and have been translated into four languages. This novel won the Clarin Prize for fiction and is her first title to be available in English.
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