New Internationalist

Natural Selection

Issue 426

By Cecilia Szperling. Translated from the Spanish by Oscar Luna.

The central characters in Cecilia Szperling’s novel are not easy to warm to. Ernestina, Cosme and Pablo are middle-class Argentineans unable to find their role in a system that is disintegrating, both economically and morally, and turning on itself. They are art school dropouts, spoilt, corrupt and drug-addled; plugging themselves into the trashiest elements of popular culture and imagining their self-indulgence to be an art form, they drift through their days at the margins of society, expecting nothing and contributing nothing.

The book begins with a vicious assault on Ernestina’s affluent, conformist sister, Emma, by Cosme and Pablo. This almost-motiveless act of violence resonates through the narrative and sets the tone of random brutality justified as self-expression. The trio embark on a doomed spree of drug-taking and sexual adventure through the seamy underbelly of Argentina and Uruguay, a journey that brings them into contact with similarly lost souls and damaged personalities, including a heroin-addicted psychiatrist and a psychopathic anaesthetist.

Drawing on Freudian dream theory and the principles of Darwinian selection, Szperling’s short, punchy novel paints a vivid pen-portrait of the savage and amoral nature of this stratum of Argentinean society. Although at times lacking in focus and overly fond of clunky symbolism, the book is a dramatic demonstration of what ensues when a population is cut adrift from its certainties and attempts to fill a cultural void with synthetic pleasures, with inevitable bleak and chilling consequences.

PW

This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Natural Selection

Leave your comment