César Aira is considered to be in the forefront of contemporary Argentine literature. He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays, and despite this he has limited public recognition. He has only two other readily available novels in translation, all published (thank goodness) by New Directions and translated by the noteworthy Chris Andrews: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, and How I Became a Nun.
As with all Aira’s novels, this is a short book (139 pages) that takes place in 24 hours significant to one of its themes, time, on December 31. It setting is the construction site of a highrise luxury condo. It opens with the prospective tenants touring the building to see how close it is to completion, as it scheduled to open the next day. The Chilean family of the construction site security guard has been living on the top floor of the condominium during its construction, and they plan for a New Year’s Eve party.
For almost the first 30 pages, the author plays at a narrative point of view ‘tag’ game. It finally settles on Patri, the oldest daughter, as the protagonist and curiosity gradually builds when snapshots of the site’s other-worldly inhabitants crop up repeatedly but matter-of-factly. Aira masterfully shades them into the narrative so that we become accustom to their liminal presence as Patri is.
The architecture motif functions perfectly to examine ways in which art (this text) relates to time and space and IS also the figurative apartment complex. Since the characters reside in this building during its construction, Aira and his ghosts can play in this transitory stage and explore the thresholds there, the trope of “built/unbuilt”…
Like another writer of Liminal Fiction, Jorge Luis Borges, who also explores ideas more than human relationships, characters tend to be flat. But that said, if one approached them with traditional character-plot expectations one should be wasting their time reading them…
Aira pulled off the supreme multi-layered ironies in The Ghosts. His explorations of thresholds (becoming vs negation), of the myriad natures of time in fiction, art held up against “real” time…The precise use of architecture constructs (endless rooms stretching out to infinity to compartmentalize our existence for example) is humorous and interesting, as exemplified in the almost kisch irony about Patria needing to find a “real man”.
In exiting the novel, one can almost butnotquite find themselves wanting to leap into the void with Aira’s Ghosts….