Claudia Piñeiro is best known as a crime writer, and you can see that in this book as the main character – Elena – takes herself across Buenos Aires on a mission to help solve the mysterious death of her daughter, Rita, who hanged herself in the belfry of a church. This dramatic suicide act happened three times in the author’s home village, I believe. But it was raining and Rita had a phobia about going into the church in the rain. Elena knows she could not have committed suicide, but does she really know? Does she really know anything?
It’s a painful book to read as Elena has debilitating Parkinson’s, being active only in the times between taking her medicine and the book is structured in the times between her pills being taken. Even then, her head is bent down so she cannot see other than downwards – she sees a lot of shoes, but not faces.
Her daughter is her carer, who hates looking after her, who rages against what she has to do as her mother deteriorates. It’s a tough read, with but brief moments of tenderness when, finally, Elena is offered some help by the health service and when – it sounds absurd – she strokes a cat at the home of the woman she has been seeking. For, despite everything, Elena wants to live.
The three main characters in the book are women but this is not a book about women’s solidarity; all of them have been hurt by other women. And by institutions such as the church. The book also talks about things we would prefer to avoid – family carers having no choice but to care for a parent, women having anti-abortion views and some women who are mothers never bonding with their children.
The book is well written, translated sensitively and our bookshop book group found plenty to discuss in the text.