Louis Amis

A unique literary phenomenon

All his novellas have a challenging philosophical core — yet they seem effortlessly produced and are fun to read

The Argentinian writer César Aira is a prodigy: at the age of 68 he has published, according to a ‘partial bibliography’ on Wikipedia, 67 novels (plus non-fiction, plays and translations into Spanish from four languages). It’s a record made only slightly more believable by the fact that the novels are mostly around 100 pages long. ‘Automatic writing’ is often mentioned in the books themselves (Aira supposedly doesn’t revise much, or at all). In 1992, for example, he published five novels — a personal best which he nonchalantly repeated in 2011.

Certainly, he glides through — or over —his stories, with the light irony and digressive versatility of Ovid, poet of the Metamorphoses. The effortlessness seems supernatural (even the name Aira recalls the breeze, as in ‘Buenos Aires’). And in this there is an irresistible harmony with his prevailing themes, which might be described as post-magical-realist: sci-fi-influenced notions of the uncanny, and the interpenetration of real life and creative mental processes. Magical machines often feature in the stories — and Aira himself seems to be one of them, producing these books as if in an infinite line, each one appearing almost instantaneously, as if fully formed, completely different from any other, yet all in obedience to some secret set of laws that the reader senses without being able to discern.

Two beautiful examples, now translated by Nick Caistor, come from widely distant points in Aira’s career, offering an intriguing suggestion of his development. The Proof, written in 1989, opens with a nerdy 16-year-old girl walking at dusk down a city street thronged with other teenagers. Marcia feels herself slowing down ‘through the soft resistance of the light and darkness, silence and the glances exchanged between face and face’. Suddenly, she is crudely accosted by two lesbian ‘punks’.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in