On reading: Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Title: Tender Is the Flesh

Author: Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses

From the back: It all happened so quickly. First, animals became infected with the virus and their meat became poisonous. Then, governments initiated the Transition. Now, ‘special meat’ – human meat – is legal.

Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans only no one calls them that. He works with numbers, consignments, processing. One day, he’s given a gift to seal a deal: a specimen of the finest quality. He leaves her in his barn, tied up, a problem to be disposed of later.

But the specimen haunts Marcos. Her trembling body, her eyes that watch him, that seem to understand. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost – and what might still be saved…

The gist: This book is possibly one of the most horrific books I’ve ever read. There’s not many books where I’m scared to turn the page to see what happens next, but Tender is the Flesh had me reading through my fingers and gave me chills to the core.

This book is graphic yet clinical. It’s the horror of the business of animal slaughter made so clear you can’t turn away. What is particularly effective, beyond the clinical way that Bazterrica presents the slaughter of humans, the production line of death, is the focus on how language can humanize or dehumanize. How words are an important tool to shape attitudes and to sanitise actions. How words present people with a frame for humanity, for consciousness, and how those words are used to excuse and justify acts that would go way beyond most moral lines.

As someone who currently eats meat but has periodically been vegetarian, this book took a knife to the clash between my feelings about eating meat and my actions of eating meat and twisted it. It played on a certain cognitive dissonance inside me and made me feel uncomfortable, made me mentally and physically squirm. That sort of discomfort is a good thing, and one that I may well need to address again going forwards. I’m not sure a book has ever made me feel something quite as physical as Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh did. I highly recommend it—brutal, clinical, and horrific.

Favourite line: The words are there, encapsulated. They’re rotting behind the madness.

Read if: You want a book that pulls no punches, that drags you mercilessly and clinically through a dystopia that will chill you to the bone.

Read with: A vegetarian meal-plan to hand.

Get it: Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

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