Money to Burn by Ricardo Piglia, trans. Amanda Hopkinson
The tragic, seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires
Friday 30 January 2004
Ricardo Piglia dominates Argentine writing. Born in 1941, he inherited Borges' suspicion of genre, his exploration of writing and reading - and his attraction to the seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires. Piglia's fictions are parables of creativity within the nightmare of his country's recent history. He offers brilliant off-the-cuff comments, has a vast knowledge of crime thrillers, and has re-jigged the Argentine literary tradition as urban and anarchic.
Yet his output is meagre and experimental. So it came as a surprise when he published this prize-winning recreation of the hold-up of a security van in Buenos Aires and a 15-hour shoot-out in Montevideo. Here was a thriller that had sprung from Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard, with respect for the locale, for the way his thugs talk, their weapons, their pasts.
Piglia combed police records, the press, psychiatric reports and witness statements. As in Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a journalist chronicles events that escape from hindsight. Renzi, this journalist, reappears from Piglia's earlier work and is insulted by the commissioner in charge of the case as a know-all, lacking respect, with his glasses and goose face - a mocking self-portrait of the writer.
The story follows a gang of cold-blooded killers, two of whom are called "the twins" as they are gay lovers. They almost get away with their booty, but trip up and shoot to the death in a flat in Montevideo.
These thugs imitate Hollywood films and childishly watch themselves on the news. However, Piglia is up to more than the clever weaving of a true-crime story. His epigraph is from Brecht: what's worse, to rob a bank, or to found one?
According to him, Buenos Aires lacks urban myths. The gauchos have become thugs who kill from stolen cars. His main character, the "Blond Gaucho" Dorda, is a secret hero, who burns the money snatched from the van. He is society's scapegoat, the idiot who suffers for others in an Argentine version of a Greek tragedy.
Given Argentine history, parallels can be drawn with the urban guerillas who raided banks and were decimated by the police and military in orgies of violence. Despite these reverberations, I found the novel sentimentalises these thugs. Amanda Hopkinson's translation deals well with Piglia's studied slang, and has useful notes.
The reviewer is professor of Spanish at UCL
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 This is what the photographer has to say about the picture of a weasel riding a woodpecker
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Kanye West drops 'All Day', music video to come from Steve McQueen
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut