Photo of Buenos Aires by lrargerich used under a Creative Commons license.
César Aira, Ghosts (New Directions, 2009).
A short novel about a Chilean family living on the roof of an upscale apartment building under construction in Buenos Aires on New Year’s Eve. The day starts with arrival of future tenants who want to inspect the builders’ progress. The crew of laborers works a half-day and then breaks for a lunch where much wine is drunk. They depart, leaving the Chilean night watchman to nao and his wife to prepare to host a New Year’s party that evening. As the day passes, the focus shifts to the watchman’s teenage daughter. Oh, yes — the building is also inhabited by naked, floating, dusty ghosts, who will have their own party. Aira is a prolific Argentina author, but little of his work has been translated into English. This book made me want to read more of his work.
Here is Wikipedia’s page on Aira. Google Books lets you read a little. Scott Bryan Wilson (The Quarterly Conversation) says it is ultimately about the mechanics within families and the ways in which they create expectations for our lives. The Complete Review, which has a helpful collection of links (some of which are below), says it makes for an unusual and haunting coming-of-age novel. Jesse Tangen-Mills (Bookslut) sees fugues of free association combined with the ordinary banality of everyday life. Natasha Wimmer (The New York Times) says Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed. Thomas McGonigle (Los Angeles Times) warns that the novel’s opening is shy in revealing the greatness within. The New Yorker‘s anonymous reviewer says Aira conjures a languorous, surreal atmosphere of baking heat and quietly menacing shadows that puts one in mind of a painting by de Chirico. Megan Doll (San Francisco Chronicle) says Aira makes the strange seem banal, and calls it absurd and pedantic. Chad W. Post (Three Percent) says it’s an incredibly enjoyable book that can be read during an afternoon. Josef Braun (VUE Weekly) calls it a kind of jazzy essay, combining vividly detailed people and places with unfettered, often dazzling abstraction. Andrew Seal posts some favorite passages. Another (unidentified) blogger calls it one of the most uniquely, genuinely odd books you’re likely to stumble across. Mookse says Aira’s imagination and intelligence are for real. Douglas Messerli says Aira’s short novels seem like much longer fictions. David Auerbach doesn’t like Aira’s bad writing — he thinks Aira hasn’t spent enough time thinking things through. Melissa Tuckman says it’s a phantom-novel, airy and gestural, and that’s what makes it so terrifying. Carlos Amantea says it’s a story grounded in reality, but also a ghost story. Robert Birnbaum reads it as an allegory of class consciousness. Will Ashon feels no pressure to make sense of it. Francis Reynolds says Aira creates a strange and unsettling atmosphere. Kathleen Brazie says it is driven by finding what lies in the space between real and unreal. María Moreno interviewed Aira for Bomb. Marcelo Ballvé wrote about “the ultra-experimental, madly prolific Argentine novelist César Aira” in The Quarterly Conversation. Scott Bryan Wilson interviewed the translator, Chris Andrews, also in The Quarterly Conversation.