No escape from the human condition


Las viudas de los jueves creates a
microcosm of Argentine society in which hypocritical arrivistes are doomed to fail in their bid to shut
out the squalor beyond


Las viudas de los jueves
Claudia Piñeiro
2005, Alfaguara
318 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

THE MURDER of an upper-class suburban housewife, María Marta García Belsunce – found dead by her husband in the bathroom of their weekend home within an exclusive country club in October 2002 – shocked Argentine society.

By exposing the extent to which the dead woman’s family would go to conceal the fact that she had been killed and not the victim of an unfortunate accident in the bath, the case revealed an even more uncomfortable truth: that, given the gated community’s exceptional security, the killer had been someone from inside.

Gone was the mystique of privilege, probity – and contrived safety – by which such communities justify themselves. In its place, a nagging disillusionment and the realisation that no one is safe from human folly.

The case coincided with Claudia Piñeiro’s labours on Las viudas de los jueves (Thursday’s Widows), an award-winning psychological and social portrait of the Argentine rich who choose to live behind locked doors away from the squalor and crime of the rest of society. She finished writing the book after the murder, which forced her to reconsider her novel in an effort to ensure that it was not subsequently regarded as speculative.

Upper-class decadence

Las viudas de los jueves is a bestselling crime novel that struck a chord with readers for the ingenious way it engaged with the decadence of the upper-class and won the Premio Clarín in 2005. It creates a self-centred microcosm of Argentine society in the form of Altos de la Cascada, a gated community about 50km from Buenos Aires populated by men and women accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle in which the condition of the communal golf course, parched from summer drought, is a more prominent concern than earth-shaking national and international events.

Behind the façade of indolent indifference, however, lie very human conflicts fuelled by social class and individual weakness that allow the author to strip the hypocritical arrivistes of Altos de la Cascada of their pretensions and warn the like-minded that you cannot escape the ills of society by cutting yourself off from it.

Set amid the fallout of a decade of Menemism – in which privatisation, the influx of foreign capital and entrepreneurial risk-taking meant that fabulous, easy wealth was sometimes gained overnight – the story highlights the extent to which some men will go, in leaner times, to maintain their lifestyles and status.

Piñeiro’s genius is in the way she has created a microcosm – a popular device among South American writers – with which to magnify and observe social issues in Argentina but also western society as a whole. The novelist, Tomás González, for example, creates rural worlds cut off from the brutal reality of Colombian life in an effort to explore one or two aspects of what lies beyond with work that feeds from the suspense produced by those invisible barriers within which the microcosm exists.

Piñeiro’s work is also distinct for her agile language and succinct style – as well as a talent for injecting intrigue learned at the coalface of TV drama scriptwriting – which she complements with her own, intimate knowledge of the community she has scrutinised.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer