You open the thin book. You have heard much about this writer, this giant of Latin American fiction, disciple of Cervantes and Borges….In the first page, you meet the protagonist, historian Felipe Montero. You read further into the story, you find that you are walking into the old section of the city after seeing an advertisement in a local paper offering 4000 pesos a month plus room and board to edit an old crone’s late husbands memoirs…..wait, You ARE Felipe Montero.
Not having read a novel narrated in second person since Robbe-Grillet, I took readily to being the hero of the story I am reading for a change. Carlos Fuentes novella Aura, was the start of his named cycle of novels ‘El Mal del Tiempo’ dealing with the problem of time. In an early interview, Fuentes declared that this part of his vast cultural-historical ‘project’ was to examine and negate western linear time..”I want to announce that my concept of time is linear, also cyclical, also eternal returns, or sometimes a spiral…” Once armed with this and a bit of biographical snippets hinting that Fuentes spent a lot of his life in libraries and has whole rows of cultural history probably committed to his memory, you MAY be right to assume therefore if a mention is made by the narrator that the street number of the decrepit mansion has been crossed out and changed to 815, then a faceless voice tells you in the unlit hallway that you must take 13 steps to the left and then 22 steps up, the numbers probably have symbolic importance. And all the seeming innocuous details: species of plants, colors of the character’s dress…more than likely point to a subtextual layer, a bit of delving may point to associations with the ‘White Goddess’ , allusions to Hecate, and Artemis and the tripartite aspect of the moon goddess of birth death and rebirth.
You (Felipe Montero) have already decided that this place and its widow/crone are beyond creepy and weird, but the niece, Aura…well that will be another story… The editing of the old General’s memoirs is gravy, you want to milk this to last long enough to pay for some ‘me time’ later…but there IS the matter of interior lighting, or lack of it…along with the fact that Consuelo, (the ancient widow) is often found kneeling down waving a fist in the air in front of a Christ figure carved in black wood surrounded by votive candles is a bit bewildering, but @ 4000 pesos a month you can put up with some infirmities..
But then you have those dreams, or are they dreams? There was or wasn’t something beheaded, as if in a sacrifice…the senses are gradually less sure of the interiors of this place..That moonlight….You have exchanged the “Gaze” mirada with the crone AND Aura… its as if its a portal between two worlds, and you know you are eternally bound… to find out the rest of the plot by reading… Aura.
What I took Away
The narrative reads like a story by Poe… the characters -other than Felipe of course- are as ethereal as they are of blood and flesh, which is anyway integral to the dual world Fuentes creates. When the jolt to our senses occur, when the realm of the fantastic intrudes on our ‘reality’ we are called to question which world we (Fuentes ‘you’) are located in, disoriented by the intrusion of another reality. The question of sanity even becomes a matter of perspective! But then again, it may have only been a nightmare…