May 2022 Harriett Book Club
Bodies, bodies, bodies. If there were a specific theme in Argentinian novelist Claudia Pineiro’s Elena Knows (tr. Frances Riddle), it would be hideous, infirm, malformed bodies, the way they move and feel and think, as well as how religion dictates (or not) the way one views and care for these bodies.
Elena has Parkinson’s, which she calls the ‘fucking whore illness’. Roberto has had a hunched back since birth. Rita undergoes an invasive procedure to check if she has a uterus. As Elena sets out to determine who had killed her daughter Rita, it gradually dawns on the reader that every character in this story is equally helpless.
A book club member calls Elena Knows a book about everything people doesn’t want to talk about.
We started our book club discussion with this question: What are some of the issues raised in Elena Knows that resonated with you the most?
Mother-daughter relationship. Caregiver-patient relationship. Mental distress of caregivers. Impact of bureaucracy and patriarchy on women’s bodies. Disparity between thinking and knowing. Reality of motherhood: do mothers really know their children best? Pain and suffering. What does pain turn you into? Hypocrisy of religion. Sickness and dignity.
We also discussed the role of Inspector Avellaneda and the lawyer at the government agency that issued Elena her disability certificate. We agreed that these two characters offered Elena solace and dignity by doing the most human thing possible in the face of her debilitating illness and after the death of her daughter: offering a listening ear and shaking her hand. These two characters seem to emit tiny rays of hope in this broken fictional world.
The allure of this narrator-solves-the-mystery-novel also lies in Pineiro’s very skilful depiction of body movement that enables the reader to visualise the impact of Parkinson’s on Elena’s body as she walks down the streets, gets herself into and out of a cab, remains stationary until her pills mobilise her body again.
Join us in June as we discuss French writer David Diop’s At Night All Blood is Black (tr. Anna Moschovakis) that won the 2021 International Booker Prize.
Everyone is welcome to join our book club. We meet online every last weekend of the month. For more updates, follow us on Instagram and Facebook!