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Ghosts by César Aira


by César Aira

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Very likely the glowing reviews in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other places set my expectations too high. While not bad, Aira's Ghosts wasn't as experimental or as "chilling" (as the publisher called it) as they claimed; it was a mildly amusing novella with a not particularly surprising ending.

If you're in the market for a short novel that actually fulfills the claims made for this one, I recommend you try Maurice Blanchot's terrific Death Sentence. In fact, I think I'm going to re-read it now. ( )
  giovannigf | Mar 17, 2018 |
Bought for Melissa to quote from for her essay - Spring 2015
  RustlingsTim | Dec 5, 2015 |
At the last day of the year, in a unfinished apartment complex, the construction workers and the families that will live in the homes when they are finished are ready to wave goodbye to the old year. While the complex is being built, a Chilean family had moved in - the man serves as the night watchman and the family just tags along with him (and considering how many times it was mentioned that they were Chilean, I am pretty sure that I am missing something about Argentina and workers from Chile - a subtext that should be pretty clear to anyone from the area I suspect). And the new building is already overpopulated - with ghost - which only the Chilean family can see. That's the premise of the novel and Aira spent the first 100 pages staging the story - with the owners coming and going early in the day, the construction workers celebrating and going home and then the family and their relatives gathering to meet the new year. And somewhere in this buildup, the author links philosophy, language and architecture (and his very fast walk through the world architecture and its meaning is the most enjoyable part of the book - as short as it is).

The ghosts which usually are pretty silent decide that it is time to start being more active and to influence the humans and set about to do it by choosing the most vulnerable of them - the daughter of the mother of the family that had been born before the family was built, before she met her current husband. Aira style is poetic and flowery but even it does not save a pretty pointless story - at the end I was ready to say "So what?".

If the ghosts were not added, it would have been a pretty enjoyable story for a Chilean family in Argentina - still without a lot to say but "slice of life" is a valid genre and I sometimes enjoy it. With the ghosts? I am not sure what was all that about.

I suspect I simply did not understand the story. I enjoyed Aira's "The Literary Conference" (as weird as it was) so I might decide to give him another chance... but it won't be soon. ( )
  AnnieMod | Mar 8, 2015 |
In theory, the pacing of this book is terrible: in a 140 page book more than a hundred are spent establishing the setting and the scene. Only in the final thirty or so pages is the action of the story conceived and carried out. For an arrangement like this the book actually works out surprisingly well- but could have been better.

Appropriately enough, given the amount of time the story allocates to it, the setting is the highlight of this book. A half-finished condo building that is all dust and stones, uninhabited except for the night watchmen and his family on the top floor. This “intimate, armor-plated little universe” is also haunted by ghosts of a strain I haven’t come across in fiction before. Whereas most ghosts are presented as nonsexual or asexual, Aira’s ghosts put their sexuality front and center, their exposed genitals being the only part of them that don’t always look covered in dust. All the ghosts are male, for symbolic reasons I hazard given the ending. While this different take on ghosts is interesting, Aira never explains the attitude that the night watchman and his family have adopted toward them. In the early pages of the story it’s clear that the ghosts inspire fear in other people, like a young boy who catches a glimpse of a couple of the naked apparitions, but the family that is at the center of the story mostly treat them completely nonchalantly, barely paying attention to them for most of the book. Except for how it ends the story could have featured mere metaphorical ghosts and worked just as well, but instead Aira makes the ghosts a physical manifestation. It’s a perfectly acceptable choice, but given the lengthy setup I wanted a more concrete explanation as to why the family treats the ghosts as they do. The implied answer is that they’ve just gotten used to them, but it seems as though they should at least be mistrustful of them. Given the ending it’s clear that they never understood the ghosts, after all, so how they’ve become just another aspect of their life is a mystery.

In general I would have preferred a slower buildup. The character Patri takes center stage for the final thirty pages of the book, but before that there’s little to differentiate her from the other family members. Some foreshadowing, or just some earlier characterization at the very least, would have been of benefit to the story. Likewise, as mentioned above, I would have preferred the book to either change the attitude toward the ghosts from nonchalance to something else, or at least to include suggestions that the family’s indifference was somehow wrongly arrived at. Finally, there are a couple tangents that the story takes that I wasn’t crazy about. There is an extended discussion of architecture at about the halfway point of the book, and although I understand the point of the discussion (not only is the architecture of the building important, but the mental architecture of the space is important as well, and in fact since you’re reading the book you’re creating a mental architecture as you read it, and in some ways this mental architecture is of superior importance to the physical architecture, yada yada yada) in practice it wasn’t interesting. A writer like Calvino can give you his thoughts on garbage and make it not just interesting but brilliant, but Aira doesn’t prove himself capable of a similar feat here.

Despite these criticisms I’ll repeat that the final thirty pages of the book manage to use the setting well to deliver an interesting story, but there are certainly ways I think the impact of that final section could have been magnified. In general there are several choices that Aira made that I’m quizzical about. Perhaps there were symbolic reasons for them that I missed, but on its face some of the aspects of the book just don’t make sense. Perhaps I’ll try another Aira book in the future: there was a lot of potential here, but in my opinion only some of it was realized.
( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
There's a lot to criticize here: it often feels pointlessly weird & obscure; the realism can be trivial and prosaic; the philosophical pseudo-Foucaultian tangents are absurd without quite being satirical.

But in the end I accepted its improvisational attitude, and I enjoyed its humor, appreciated the rich characterization and applauded Aira's lucid style. And it has a heck of an ending. ( )
  patronus11 | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
César Airaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andrews, ChrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the morning of the 31st of December, the Pagaldays visited the apartment they already owned in the building under construction at 2161 Calle Jose Bonifacio, along with Bartolo Sacristan Olmedo, the landscape gardener they had hired to arrange plants on the two broad balconies, front and rear.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811217426, Paperback)

The most unsettling and stunning of Aira's short novels published so far by New Directions.

“On a building site of a new, luxury apartment building, visitors looked up at the strange, irregular form of the water tank that crowned the edifice, and the big parabolic dish that would supply television images to all the floors. On the edge of the dish, a sharp metallic edge on which no bird would have dared to perch, three completely naked men were sitting, with their faces turned up to the midday sun; no one saw them, of course.”—from Ghosts

Ghosts is about a construction worker's family squatting on a building site. They all see large and handsome ghosts around their quarters, but the teenage daughter is the most curious. Her questions about them become more and more heartfelt until the story reaches a critical, chilling moment when the mother realizes that her daughter's life hangs in the balance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:15 -0400)

"Ghosts revolves around an immigrant worker's family squatting on the haunted construction site of a luxury condominium building. All of the workmen and their wives and children see the ghosts, who literally hang around the place, but one teenage girl becomes the most curious. Her questions about the ghosts get so intense that her mother - in a chilling split-second - realizes her daughter's life hangs in the balance."… (more)

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