Tender is the flesh - by Augustina Bazterrica
I know I’m going against the flow here, because of the rave reviews from most of the horror community's most respected reviewers, but there it is. This book was ok. It would be a stretch to say that it had a point – I don’t think there can be a point in a book like this – other than to numb the reader into an acceptance of lack of feeling and empathy and a total commitment to hedonism. So how did we get there?
The premise here is fantastic and was the initial draw for me. A virus has hit the earth and made all animals, all meat, inedible for humans. Eating meat means death. Given the limited resources and crop growing capabilities of the earth, a solution is found in breeding “special meat” – basically, humans bred specifically for the purpose of killing and eating. Dumb idiots, unschooled, walking cavemen. Meat on legs.
To make this concept more palatable (see what I did there), words are power, instead of calling it human flesh, it is given the title “special meat” (which is a great commentary on how we label meat – we do not call it pig, we call it pork. Cow is beef. Chicken is chicken probably because we couldn’t give a shit about the damn noisy irritating pecky things).
De-sensitizing the population to the truth of what they are eating means desensitizing the reader.
We join the MC Marcos – the head (effectively) in charge of a production plant for special meat. We see every stage in the killing and destruction of the special meat. From its humanitarian killing (A tap on the head to knock it out before it is hung and has its throat slit) to the removal of internal organs and carving of the flesh. We see how Marcos himself has been desensitized from his own feelings (sex here reduced to aggressive consensual rape with voyeurism included). It happens. I can’t say you feel any particular way about the events, the textbook presentation of the breaking down of a human into constituent parts ready for consumption desensitizes you to Marcos himself – I couldn’t care less about him as a human being – I followed him on his journey and it was as hedonistic as the world in which he lived.
There is a twist thrown in that he has sex with a special meat product, who conceives a baby. There is tension there, and the ending is a nice tie-up of that tension, but we are again reduced to watching an unempathetic man doing something for his own benefit.
This novel is all about what we do to animals – how we collectively block out any thoughts about where our food comes from. What it actually is (I say we, I’m a long-standing vegetarian, so this isn’t news to me). I guess for people that have their heads in the sand, this might be shocking, this lack of feeling for something that shares its physicality with our own – but I long ago decided that animals were off the table.
Look – this could have been more. I think Marcos is someone I would have liked to feel for. The potential here was enormous. The world-building is fantastic. But the story took second place to a detailed breakdown of the steps that are required to strip a human to its edible parts. It lost the horror for me somewhere along the road. It became more of a documentary.
I’m giving this a 3 out of 5⭐‘s, because for me, this didn’t horrify. It didn’t surprise me, it didn’t make me care about any of its main characters. As I said – probably an unpopular opinion, but there it is. Gotta stay true to what I thought.
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