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Natural Selection

Natural Selection

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*