Books

19 Claws and a Black Bird by Agustina Bazterrica review: Bewitching short stories

Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica's first short story collection is the product of a macabre imagination that shocks

19 Claws and a Black Bird by Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses, is out now (Pushkin, £12.99)

19 Claws and a Black Bird is a collection of short stories from the acclaimed Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica, whose 2020 novel Tender is the Flesh saw her compared with the queen of literary horror Mariana Enriquez.

Like Enriquez, Bazterrica writes fetishistic gore with a bewitching allure, creating, through detailed but often prosaic exposition, an overwhelming sense of dread and a fear of losing one’s senses. A delicious anxiety racks up as you go from story to story wondering what terrible thing might happen next. John Carpenter becomes your unfriendly companion. 

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We meet a woman whose life begins to break down after she hears her neighbour’s body land on her patio; a widow who lives by a curious set of mental instructions (“Cut the tiger’s head off the carpet and put it in the oven”); a murderous cat called Nietzsche. We also learn that men who mistreat women or abuse children will come to a very sticky end. The macabre imagination which fuels these stories is admirable, but what’s less expected is the tender pathos Bazterrica displays for her stories’ victims. There is far more than one note to her haunting music.

19 Claws and a Black Bird  cover

19 Claws and a Black Bird by Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses, is out now (Pushkin, £12.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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