Elena Knows - Reading Guide
Discover what the judges had to say about this unique story that interweaves crime fiction with intimate tales of morality and the search for individual freedom.
Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2022. A unique story that interweaves crime fiction with intimate tales of morality and the search for individual freedom. Translated by Frances Riddle.
After Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.
In February 2023, Netflix announced a theatrical adaption of the novel. Starring Mercedes Morán, one of Argentina’s top TV and film actresses. Elena Knows is set to be released on film in late 2023.
About the AuthorClaudia Piñeiro is best known for her crime novels, which are bestsellers in Argentina, Latin America and around the world. Many of her novels have been adapted for the big screen.
About the TranslatorFrances Riddle has translated numerous Spanish-language authors, including Isabel Allende, Claudia Piñeiro, Leila Guerriero, María Fernanda Ampuero, and Sara Gallardo.
The things I found most enjoyable about translating Elena Knows were also the biggest challenges. I was
initially drawn to the style and format of this book with its long sentences and long paragraphs and unmarked speech.— Frances Riddle, translator of Elena Knows
‘I always begin writing my books with an image that acts like a trigger. I allow this image to steep in my mind, the characters then begin to speak, to reveal their conflicts. It’s like a tangled ball of wool that I unwind bit by bit. In the case of Elena Knows this image was a woman, a woman in her kitchen at home, sitting bent over in a chair waiting for the pill she’s taken to take effect so she can get up. This was the trigger image. I should also acknowledge that this diseased body of the character Elena is inspired by the body of my mother, who suffered from the same illness, Parkinson’s.
‘In Burzaco, the small town in the province of Buenos Aires where I was born and grew up, it wasn’t unusual for someone to climb up to the church belfry to kill themselves because actually there weren’t too many methods available: either you hanged yourself in the church, or you threw yourself in front of the train. In fact, during my childhood, I saw dead people being brought down from the belfry of the Church of the Immaculate Conception on three occasions. After that comment by my teacher, chatting with a friend I grew up with, we had the following conversation: “Are you writing at the moment?” she asked me. “Yes,” I replied. “What’s the new novel about?” “It’s the story of a woman whose daughter is found hanging from the belfry and she wants to know if she killed herself or was killed.” “Ah, so it takes place in Burzaco then,” my friend concluded.’
Read the full interview here.
‘Claudia Piñeiro’s short and deeply felt novel, evokes the loneliness of ageing and the uncertainty of memory. Frances Riddle’s brutal yet sparing translation suggests the shadows and light of noir without ever eclipsing the very human tragedy at the core of the book.’
Kathleen Rooney, The New York Times
‘Short and stylish […]. It’s a tight and terse mystery with a decisive protagonist. But it’s also a piercing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, the indignity of bureaucracy, the burdens of caregiving and the impositions of religious dogma on women.’
‘Her novels often feature incisive social and historical scrutiny. Her third novel for adults, Elena Knows, is a perfect example: a complex character study of three women affected by their society’s oppressive rules, within a murder mystery.’