Order for £9.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Seven Ways to Kill a Cat, By Matías Néspolo
Harvill Secker, £10.99
Wednesday 28 December 2011
Set in a shanty-town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, this fine first novel focuses on Gringo and Chueco, both 20, who live in an eternal present of hustling for food, sex, alcohol and drugs. Neither future nor past bears thinking about, an attitude borne out in the novel's style and structure by Néspolo's rapid, short sentences, use of the historic present and the constant movement of his characters.
In the 1950s, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Ten years ago, its economy collapsed. The currency was worthless, jobs vanished and the poor starved, as Seven Ways to Kill a Cat, set in 2001, shows. In the background, demonstrators fight running battles with the police. In the foreground, drug-selling gangs clash to control the neighbourhood.
Youngsters like Gringo and Chueco are drawn into petty crime and are into the gangs – and more serious crime. The police are absent, except for a corrupt commissioner. The state has disappeared.
The narrator, Gringo, has to find a way to survive. The novel opens brutally with Chueco killing and skinning a cat – the only meat they'll see that week. Chueco is unpleasant, impulsive, deceitful and contradictory and, though Gringo is all of these things, too, he thinks about a future beyond the neighbourhood.
Néspolo draws great characters – the slobby Fat Farías, his daughter Yanina, Gringo's friend Quique – and a series of brilliant scenes. The best, though, is how he expresses feelings and personality through dialogue. Translating a novel like this, full of tough talk, is an enormous challenge. Frank Wynne does it wondrously well, boldly using many Spanish terms, such as nicknames and slang. He doesn't make Argentinean street kids say "mate" or "bro" instead of "socio" or "che".
Néspolo's novel bears comparison with such masters of description of life in the slums as Alexander Baron and Nelson Algren, though the tone falters when Gringo starts to read Moby Dick. Here, Néspolo fails to draw analogies with Ishmael and Captain Ahab but Seven Ways to Kill a Cat is still an excellent adventure story that also documents urban poverty and violence, with faultless dialogue and at breathtaking pace.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Downton Abbey series 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
New Tricks: Dennis Waterman to leave drama after a decade of crime-solving
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'