Tender is the Flesh
Author: Agustina Bazterrica
Translator: Sarah Moses
Length: 6.5 hours
Narrator: Joseph Balderrama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Dystopia, Horror, Adult fiction
When a virus wipes out the animal population of the world, cannibalism becomes legal. Humans are bred and farmed for mass consumption. “Special meat,” it’s called. Marcos, who works at a processing plant, tries not to think about what he’s doing—tries not to think about the “heads” (not humans—they’re not called that anymore) that he’s slaughtering. But when he’s gifted a female and forced to tie her up in his barn, he has not choice but to stare reality in the face. And that face is human. And suddenly, he starts treating her like one.
I first heard about this novel on TikTok (like most books I hear about these days). Someone recommended it as one of their most recent horror favorites, and I thought the premise sounded so fascinating. I typically don’t read horror—and I especially don’t watch it. It makes me anxious beyond belief. But I’m also fascinated by the plots. So sometimes I just have to suck it up and deal. And that’s definitely what I had to do when reading Tender is the Flesh.
The novel is told in third-person limited POV from Marcos’s perspective. Marcos isn’t in a good place—his father has dementia, his wife has left him, and his job is taxing on his mental health. He tries not to think about what he’s doing—tries to justify it to himself. And for most of the novel, I’m with him. He seems like a good man forced to work in a horrifying business out of necessity. Would I, personally? Absolutely not in a million years. But I get it—he’s a product of his new world. I didn’t fault him much for it. I felt bad for him the entire novel.
The ending is thought to be a bit of a twist. Though I didn’t expect it, it was not surprising. Mostly it was disappointing. Not that it was bad—but rather I was disappointed in the characters and the outcome. I should have seen it coming. I was waiting for the big bad thing™ to happen throughout the entire second half of the novel! Things start to go downhill and I just knew it wouldn’t end happily. Dystopias typically don’t. There’s a bit of suspense throughout the novel, but mostly it’s just a quietly horrifying and sick story. (“Quietly” in that everything is normal and fine to most of the characters, even thought it is loudly and blatantly horrific to us as readers.) I do wonder, though, if the novel would have ended differently had a certain complication not arisen. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I guess the “twist” seemed a little out of character. Though I also keep thinking maybe it wasn’t — maybe I was just fooled by our unreliable narration. Perhaps that’s what makes me like the ending so much.
I’m a sensitive person. I also decided to go vegan at the start of this year. So when I tell you this book made me nauseous and nervous, maybe you’ll think I’m just being dramatic. But this book really made me feel sick. Seriously. Please check trigger warnings before reading this book because there are many. Certain scenes made me want to cry, others made me want to throw up. I’ve seen a lot of people saying this book is just surface level shock value, but it’s not. There is a point to all the gruesomeness. I wish I wouldn’t have been curious about the premise of this story because it really made me queasy, but also, I 100% could see something like this happening in real life. Some people in the Goodreads review section of the book said that the idea of something like this happening is silly — that the whole novel is unbelievable. But humans are deplorable and depraved in their basest desires. Humans scare me. And dystopias like this book make me even more scared.
I thought the story dragged in places, but overall it was an interesting and sickening read. Again, check the trigger warnings. But if you like dystopian horror, I think you may enjoy this one. I’m positive I’ll never read it again, but I’m glad I was able to stomach reading it once. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read a pallet cleansing romance or something.