... Bazterrica’s interest is less in near-future world-building than in reflecting our grisly present ... The setup sounds like the Charlton Heston teeth-gnasher Soylent Green mated to Anthony Burgess’s satirical novel The Wanting Seed, yet the prose feels like neither. Because of its banal and miserable tone, given a muscular translation by Sarah Moses, Tender Is the Flesh — which won Argentina’s Premio Clarin de Novela — is, at least in spates, more powerful than either forebear ... It’s surprising, though it shouldn’t be, how easy it is to critique our real-life factory-farm processes by mentally swapping a human for a pig or cow. There really is no debate here; our process of mechanizing meat production is morally appalling. If Bazterrica had stopped here, she’d still have crafted one of the most potent indictments since Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju’s palate-killing 1949 documentary about Paris slaughterhouses ... Of course, Bazterrica isn’t writing a pamphlet. Her new world order isn’t so much woven into story as it is planted in front of us like a gravestone. The conveyer-belt pacing therefore feels intentional: Our murderous wrongs are repeated, and repeated, and to look away is to refuse, deliberately, to bear witness.
If Marcos’s recap of the Transition and its ethical doublethink is sometimes heavy-footed, the brusque, declarative narration and matter-of-fact staccato sentences are horribly effective ... the metaphorical equivalence with factory farming is blatant, served up to us with relish ... Marcos’s main obsession is not flesh but language: how we construct the world out of words, how we speak the unspeakable, and how we negotiate the gap between words and reality. In a narrative otherwise so blunt and blood-spattered, he piles metaphor on simile as he tries to convey the weight of others’ words ... But if this is a fable about the inadequacy of language in the face of darkness, it also resonates with sadness at the prospect of the silence humans can expect when we are alone in the world, in the wake of mass extinctions. This provocative, sorrowful novel expertly wields a double-edged cleaver: when Marcos points out that 'in the end, meat is meat, it doesn’t matter where it’s from', it’s a statement of both dystopic extremity and banal everyday fact.
... wonderfully translated ... not for the faint of heart ... without undercutting her worldbuilding, Bazterrica acknowledges the inherent absurdity of her society ... In Marcos, Bazterrica presents a moving portrait of a man who continues to grieve over the death of his son; who cares deeply for his dying father; and who loathes his snobbish sister, her rich husband and their creepy, sociopathic kids. Throughout, there are some gut-wrenching scenes ... Where that portrait starts to fray is regarding Marcos’s relationship with his “gift.” Yes, he treats her more like a human – she is given a name (Jasmine), she wears clothes, and she learns how to help around the house – but importantly, this shift only happens after they have sex. Bazterrica frames the sequence (or more precisely the lead-up; she cuts away before they have sex) as an intimate experience. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s also a rape scene: Marcos has all the power and Jasmine has no means, physically, emotionally, or mentally, to provide consent. Initially, I was bothered that Bazterrica didn’t interrogate this further, that Marcos never feels any remorse over what he’s done, and then I realised that this is precisely the point of Tender Is the Flesh. More than just a critique on how capitalism and greed dehumanises a society, Bazterrica digs a little deeper and shows how our unlimited capacity to adapt allows even those with a conscience to normalise the most horrible, outrageous, and awful of deeds.