Translated by Miranda France
Thursday Night Widows is a remarkable novel. Without taking any editorial or judgemental line on the characters it describes, it relates the story of some wealthy Argentinian families who live in an exclusive gated community, or Country Club, outside Buenos Aries. The estate is a desirable destination for well-off people when they feel restricted by their apartments in the city, when they want to start a family, and enjoy the fruits of their considerable wealth.
The story is told from the perspectives of many of the female residents, most often Virginia, a wife whose husband Ronie has lost his job and shows no inclination to find another one. Hence Virginia has turned her hobby of tipping off acquaintances when a property is about to come onto the market into a profession. As an estate agent, she is first to know whose marriage is in trouble or who is on the brink of financial disaster, and also acts as a gatekeeper to keep out unsuitable potential residents (the racism is very ugly).
The wives in this novel do not work in the sense of having a regular job. They all have maids who take their children to the nearby exclusive school which teaches its lessons in English. They have servants, gardeners, drivers and nannies, whom they treat with casual nastiness. One of the wives is an alcoholic; another becomes a kind of “landscape architect”, a role that mainly consists of telling the neighbours what sort of (expensive) plants they should buy; and another is a depressive who joins a local artists’ group. All of them are united by the tennis and golf club, by the social mores of their neighbours, and by “the Association” that makes everyone keep to the (increasingly ludicrous) rules of the Country Club by the threat of either social ostracism or a hefty fine.
Inevitably there are some shoots of resistance in this utopia, mainly from the younger generation. Juani, Virginia and Ronie’s adolescent son, persistently gets into trouble with his school for his honesty and lack of hypocrisy. Romana, his friend, is an unwanted adoptee, and she also tries to live according to her own principles. Her story and character are perhaps the most attractive, and sad, in the book. There is also a lovely section in which one of the wives, now a divorcee, is reunited with a former maid sacked by her husband.
Thursday Night Wives is written with deceptive lightness, creating a closed world in which I was fascinated, as it is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Because the author refuses to judge any of her characters, however unsympathetic, the reader is almost unaware of the grossly distorted morality of these ludicrously pampered women, with their wasted, empty lives bought at the expense of other people. The men are somewhat more detached as characters, but for them, too, appearance is all – the master of the tennis court or golf club is the highest of the social stratum, and it is taken for granted that they all earn vast quantities of money that their wives can spend at will.
It is the cracking of this front that forms the “crime” in this novel. Although there is no way out of the chains that many of these compromised people have made for themselves, at the end of the book a few of the characters have the choice of returning to reality – a choice that I hope they will take.
This novel is a hilarious yet telling social satire, extremely readable and well translated by Miranda France. Although only just published in English, it was written in 2005, when the Argentine currency inflation was out of control and the characters are terrified by the potential effects of the 9/11 atrocity. Not only is the book a fascinating harbinger of the financial crisis that hit so many other parts of the world a few years later, but also, according to the publisher’s blurb, it “eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media.” Do yourself a favour, and read it.
Reviews of Thursday Night Widows at:
Euro Crime – Karen Meek (thanks, Karen, for the book!)