Piñeiro uses the basic framework of a crime novel to tell an incredibly profound and moving story about social responsibility. Her taut prose style lends significance to the smallest details, putting you right in Elena’s shoes as she struggles to make her way around the city. Every action Elena takes is made a thousand times more difficult due to her Parkinson’s, and you can feel the frustration and anger at each tiny setback that would be the easiest thing in the world for anyone else to deal with.
The chapters alternate between describing Elena’s journey in the present and revealing information about the past via flashbacks. Through these, we are able to see the relationship between her and Rita, and understand what they meant to each other. Rita became Elena’s primary caregiver as her illness worsened, and Piñeiro takes you through all the ups and downs of such a complex situation.
Without revealing too much, one of Piñeiro’s central concerns in this novel is abortion. This theme is woven deftly throughout the novel, almost creeping up on you before the full picture clicks into place. At the time the novel was written, abortion was illegal in Argentina, and through the story, Piñeiro provides a strong, compelling, and passionate argument for its legalisation. Rather than turn her book into a political polemic, though, she grounds it in emotional truth, showing the devastating lifelong effects of one woman’s decision.
Elena Knows is a fascinating and brilliant book. Though short, it packs a real punch, and once read isn’t easily forgotten. In the English-speaking world, Piñeiro has so far received little of the same recognition she has in her home country, but hopefully this new translation can begin to remedy that. On the merits of this novel alone, it is totally deserved.
Review by Charlie Alcock