Thursday, July 22, 2010

Noir meets real life in Argentina: foreign forgotten friday

I'm reading the latest of the recent translations of crime novels from Argentina, Guillermo Orsi's No-One Loves a Policeman, so I thought I'd recommend a forgotten (or at least not well-enough-known in crime fiction circles) Argentine novel, Ricardo Piglia's Money to Burn (filmed as Burning Money or Burnt Money). Piglia's 1997 novel was published in English translation by Amanda Hopkinson in 2003. Money to Burn brings to the fore noir fiction's relation to the underbelly of everyday life by combining fiction with the documentary reconstruction of a real event, which took place between September November 6, 1965. Two friends are recruited to join an armored car robbery in Buenos Aires, and the crew brings off the heist and heads for Uruguay. Holed up in a Montevideo apartment, they're discovered and a 15-hour siege by 300 police ends with the crew burning the cash to keep it from lining the pockets of the police or making its way back to the bank--and then mostly getting killed (or getting mostly killed). the public seems to turn against the almost mythic thieves because they burned the money, a modern sacrilege, but the act involves the thieves sense of themselves as anti-establishment urban guerrillas. Jonathan Bryant at compared the novel to "a heist film made by Richard Linklater" as well as invoking Borges, Chandler, and Capote. What came to my mind when re-reading it was the doomed-outlaw theme of much noir fiction, from Paul Cain to Jim Thompson to contemporary crime fiction. the style is not straightforward, shifting from stream of consciousness to newspaper and TV reports and from the criminals to the police. But no novel I know conveys the descent from criminal success to deadly stand-off as effectively as Money to Burn. The reviews of the movie emphasize the homosexual relationship between the two friends at the center of the story, and the movie seems to have been shown on U.S. TV only by the Logo cable channel, but the novel emphasizes the social themes, the crime, the drugs, and the lives of people on the run rather than focusing on the relationship between Dorda and Brignone (called Nene and Angel in the movie). Piglia is known for criticism and novels that are very literary in form and closer to sci-fi than to crime fiction. Money to Burn stands alone in his work for its close attention to real life, its colloquial language, and its accessibility as a pure story. And it stands alone in crime fiction in its effective and entertaining combination of noir and documentary. The cover of the English translation, published by Granta, is also an effective evocation of the novel's cool, violent, and doomed story.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I just love the books you come up with.

lriley said...

I've been a fan of Piglia's for a long time. I don't think I'd put him in the sci-fi category. His most important novel IMO is Artificial Respiration written during the early 80's when Argentina was ruled by a military junta and people were disappearing left and right mostly due to that government. The book itself is about the nature of dictatorship--how it subverts everything.

In any case Money to burn is my second favorite of his works and one of my favorite noir works. It is extremely violent and it's funny how the burning money takes precedence over the numerous dead bodies.