Originally published in Spanish in slightly different form, under the title Kentukis, Samanta Schweblin’s latest novel is something of an eerie treat. What we have here are a number of short chapters, with perspectives ranging across a handful of mostly recurring characters, to tell a peculiarly modern story of technology, obsession and malign intent.
There are toys. Some look like pandas. Some look like crows. Some look like dragons. There’s a whole range is what we’re saying. You buy them, bring them home, charge them up. Alternatively, you can buy a code and become the animal itself. It’s a phenomenon. All across the world. People are buying kentukis, or buying codes to occupy kentukis. You can sit in your home and move an animal around a home on the other side of the planet. You can watch a person all day long, become a part of their lives. Children buy them, obviously, which leads to lots of paedophiles buying codes, also obviously. Or at least that is what people say. Online. We hear from a recently separated father who attempts to foster a relationship with his kentuki (despite the kentuki resisting all attempts at friendship beyond the bounds of the toy). We watch an older woman pilot a kentuki about a young woman’s house, upset about her choice in men. We see how vicious teenage girls can find themselves the victims of an unscrupulous kentuki. And we see a sort of Brexit-like animosity start to develop between those who would rather own kentukis and those who would rather be kentukis, albeit from afar.
The idea alone is a good one, certainly good enough to propel a lesser writer and drag the reader along with them. But Schweblin is a genuine talent and the idea is the tip of the iceberg. This is a book that continues to twist and mutate as it goes. It’s tremendously refreshing to be kept on your toes, to be disturbed, to be unsettled, as much as is the case here. What’s more, Schweblin keeps the plot just so, poised, such that your interest remains throughout the book. Stephen King could learn a lot from Schweblin. She doesn’t drop the tray of creamy pastries in the final act. She holds your attention. You sense she knows she’s good and that’s alright, because she is.
Any Cop?: Little Eyes has been nominated for the International Booker 2020 and it’s a good feeling to know that a good book is receiving some of the kudos it is due.