Sharif Gemie reviews A Little Luck, Claudia Piñeiro

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A Little Luck is a skilfully structured novel by Claudia Piñeiro, the award-winning  Argentinian crime and suspense writer, in which the role of chance and the choices people make in shaping their destinies are explored. Various dramatic plot twists stack up as the lives of four women become intertwined, with each one pursuing her own version of happiness as she searches for meaning in her existence. The individual stories are woven together, underpinned by the themes of hope, resilience, and the human desire for a little bit of luck to improve their lives. As it is almost impossible to outline the story without giving the plot twists away, I’ll concentrate on the tone of the work.

The main character, Mary Lahon, works for a Boston-based language college with idealistically high standards. (We learn later that this is not her real name and that she’s not American.) She’s sent to an English-language school near Buenos Aires inwomen Argentina to inspect the place and to interview staff to assess the suitability of the school for possible affiliation with the Boston college.

Piñeiro writes in a close-focus, intimate first-person. She neatly turns the tables on the expected narrative of interviews and an inspection: the tension and the nerves felt by the interviewer are subtly revealed.

It is not the first time that Mary Lahon has visited Buenos Aires for administrative reasons. Instead, ‘the abyss calls to you’ as she says right at the start of the book. She grew up there, she knows the language school well, and she suspects that within the school are people she’s familiar with and who are concerned about her. Her discovery of these old acquaintances and the revelations about her past form the substance of the novel, based on the premise that ‘history always has a reason.’ (p. 67)

In the last sections, Lahon struggles to come to terms with her past. ‘But I didn’t want to rest. I was exhausted from so much rest. I wanted to confront this thing that seemed increasingly menacing, ever darker. I wanted to face my fear head-on and vanquish it once and for all. I was always alone.’ (p. 131). This involves a change in herself. After returning to Boston she finds that: ‘Every day since my return, I’ve discovered things that were right in front of me all this time but that I couldn’t see before.’ (p. 196)

The great strength of the work is how Piñeiro has subverted the genre of crime-writing: she’s written a narrative involving suspense, death, guilt, mass prejudice, stigmatisation, victimization and hidden identities, while avoiding all the standard tropes of a crime novel. Here, there are no taciturn police officers, no crime procedure, no search for suspects. It’s not so much a whodunnit as a what-really-happened. Her main character is believable and well-rounded, and the narrative of her tragedy is powerful. Frances Riddle has rendered this gripping story into clear and accessible English for Charco Press.

Claudia Piñeiro is known for her versatile storytelling and penetrating character development. A character-driven narrative that explores the complexities of human relationships and the quest for fulfilment, set against the backdrop of urban life in Buenos Aires, A Little Luck is a compelling exploration of the human condition.

Reviewed for BookBlast by Sharif Gemie.

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Read the BookBlast review of Betty Boo by Claudia Piñeiro.

Read the BookBlast interview with Claudia Piñeiro. She was finalist for the 2022 International Booker Prize with the novel, Elena Knows.

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About Sharif Gemie 11 Articles
Sharif Gemie was a lecturer in Modern & Contemporary History. Now retired, he lives in South Wales. His book, The Hippie Trail: A History, co-authored with Brian Ireland, is published by Manchester University Press (2017). His first novel, 'The Displaced', about a British couple who volunteer to work with refugees in Germany in 1945, will be published in November 2023. Most recently he has had short pieces published in 'Cerasus Magazine' issue 10 and 'Muleskinner Journal' (July 2023).