CriminOlly thinks: Fascinating and intelligent dystopian horror. 4/5
Tender is the Flesh is a fascinating piece of dystopian science fiction that takes an extreme scenario and runs with it. In this case the event that creates the world of the book is a virus that infects animals and makes their meat deadly to humans. Humankind’s reaction to this is to start rearing people as livestock.
The books centres on Marcos, a man who works at a senior level in the meat processing industry. The plot follows his growing disquiet with the work he is involved in and through the story the full details of the tiered structure of the new society are revealed.
My one reservation about the book was a nagging feeling that the central concept was too fantastically horrifying to be credible. Given the deep instinctive taboo around cannibalism and the fact that plant-based meat substitutes have come so far, I’m not sure the book is all that convincing. That said, Augustina Bazterrica does a great job of making it as believable as it could possibly be. Every detail has been thought through and the word building is excellent. The scientific, cultural and culinary impacts are all considered and described, but never in a way that feels too laboured, or which impedes the story. At times that detail is horrific, but the book rarely dwells on it. In fact there is a slight sense of detachment throughout that I found separated me from the victims of the horrors being described. Only at the very end is that barrier shattered.
Really, this is a book about our ability to dehumanise other people when it suits us. It delves into a subject that is central to our existences and does so in a way that never feels preachy. Yes, the premise of Tender is the Flesh did feel somewhat incredible, but this kind of systematic barbarism for the sake of convenience happens every day on an industrial scale.
Title: Tender is the Flesh | Author: Augustina Bazterrica | Publisher: Pushkin Press | Pages: 219 | Publication date: 5th November 2020 | ISBN: 9781782276203 | Source: Gift
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
Content Warnings: Sexual abuse, cannibalism, mutilation