Elena Knows: Claudia Piñeiro

Translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle
Published by Charco Press

“She has to take the train into the city at ten o’clock…right after the medication has managed to persuade her body to follow her brain’s orders.”

Elena is a woman with advanced Parkinson’s. Her daughter Rita was found hanging from the belfry in the local church. The police believe Rita committed suicide. But Elena does not agree because there had been a storm that evening. Rita was scared of being struck by lightning and would never enter the church during a storm. Elena concludes that Rita was taken there against her will and killed.

The police, however, have closed the case. To humour Elena, they organize regular meetings with a constable, to whom she passes on the clues she has found. When it is clear that no one is taking her seriously, she decides to go across Buenos Aires to see Isabel, a woman who owes Rita a favour.

Elena can barely function. She has to take pills at regular intervals just to be able to move. So the trek across town is going to be difficult for her and complicated. But she times her pills, so they allow her to be mobile enough to make the journey.

The story is told from Elena’s point of view: you are inside her head, so you know exactly what it feels like to be her, how every movement has to be thought through before it is made, and how her body is letting her down.

As she travels across Buenos Aires, Elena revisits her relationship with Rita, and the events leading up to her death. Once she meets Isabel, she realizes that the things she was certain of are not the way she imagined them to be.

This is a heartbreaking but unsentimental story about how women can lose control over their lives and bodies. The relationship between Elena and Rita had not been one of loving parent and child: they sparred and bickered constantly. Rita had taken care of her mother while resenting the pressure this had placed on her.

Claudia Piñeiro reveals the secrets of the three women bit by bit, until everything falls into place. She lays bare the hypocrisy of society, the assumption that one person knows what is best for another, and the pain of being pushed into a life you do not want. It raises questions about the way we remember, and the stories we tell ourselves—stories we think of as facts, as the way things really were. Piñeiro shows in this novel that there are more ways than one of looking at those “facts”, and our realities may not be the same as someone else’s.

This is a masterful novel. The characters, especially Elena, stayed with me long after I had finished the book. For a slim volume, it packs a punch. 

Buy from Bookshop.org UK / Bookshop.org USA

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