Book Notes: Claudia Piñeiro’s Cathedrals

Cathedrals is supposed to be the Argentinian novelist’s big anti-Catholic and pro-abortion novel. The Catholic characters in Cathedrals are so cartoonishly horrid that you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Who knew the Catholic Church was still so powerful that people needed to write novels arguing that religion turns people into perverted, sick sociopaths?

What I find interesting, though, is that the atheist characters who are supposed to be the good guys of the novel are quite disgusting, as well. They aren’t blood-thirsty maniacs like the Catholics whose sociopathy isn’t even believable because, without dropping any spoilers, it’s very hard to imagine such extraordinary dysfunction in a random bunch of Catholics. The atheists in the novel are scary in a much more convincing sense. They are incapable of sustaining a normal human relationship. They are self-referential and sterile in every sense of the word. These atheist characters aren’t howling at the moon and chain-sawing relatives’ corpses for fun (OK, one little spoiler) but who’s more likely to hurt us in our real lives, a raging narcissist or a religious fanatic with a chainsaw? And if your answer is ‘a religious fanatic,’ I sincerely congratulate you with having led a very sheltered life. I haven’t been similarly blessed and so I fear cold bastards who use people a lot more.

On the positive side, Piñeiro was trying so hard to show what disgusting bastards religious people are that she accidentally created a female character who isn’t a pathetic, wobbly victim. This woman is a very religious Catholic, which for Piñeiro is clearly the worst thing a person can be. Of course, in order to be as consistently evil as this character, one has to have an uncommon strength of personality and a fierce dedication to one’s goals. And that’s how the unexpected feat of putting a woman with a personality into a Latin American novel was finally achieved.

I don’t think this novel has been translated yet but it will be because Piñeiro always gets translated. She’s very popular. And deservedly so because in spite of the ridiculousness of the plot and the cheap, tacky efforts at lecturing the readers on the badness of religion and of abortion bans, the novel is imposible to put down.

When Cathedrals gets translated, I highly recommend reading it because it’s very good and because there is no better illustration of what I call the neoliberal mentality than what you is in its ‘good,’ atheist characters.

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