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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


César Aira

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To purchase Ghosts

Title: Ghosts
Author: César Aira
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Ghosts - US
Los fantasmas - US
in Three Novels - UK
Ghosts - Canada
Ghosts - India
Los fantasmas - España
  • Spanish title: Los fantasmas
  • Translated by Chris Andrews

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Our Assessment:

B : curious little tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 24/7/2015 Jane Housham
The LA Times . 1/3/2009 Thomas McGonigle
The NY Rev. of Books . 13/1/2011 Michael Greenberg
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/3/2009 Natasha Wimmer
The New Yorker . 30/3/2009 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2009 Scott Esposito
San Francisco Chronicle . 4/3/2009 Megan Doll

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ghosts is an incitement to the sensuality of thought, of wonder, of questioning, of anticipation. Beware: Some novels are quite shy in announcing the greatness that is within. Ghosts is a model of such reticence" - Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A)n exercise in queasiness, a heady, vertigo-inducing fantasia. (...) Aira likes nothing better than to probe the obscure workings of the mind, but he also writes scenes of great prosaic beauty." - Natasha Wimmer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Aira conjures a languorous, surreal atmosphere of baking heat and quietly menacing shadows that puts one in mind of a painting by de Chirico." - The New Yorker

  • "He has succeeded in creating an intensely enjoyable book, one that bends between forms and yet feels strangely unified, a novel with the stolidity of concrete and the airiness of an eighth-floor apartment lacking an exterior wall." - Scott Esposito, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The uncanny works in reverse in Aira's fiction. Instead of making the familiar strange, he makes the strange seem banal; so banal, in fact, that he doesn't deign to offer any explanation. (...) Ghosts is at once absurd and pedantic." - Megan Doll, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ghosts is set largely on a construction site, a not-quite-finished apartment building. It begins with the future tenants all coming to have a look on the 31st of December, no one really minding that they can't quite move in yet. The only residents at this time are the night watchman, Raúl Viñas, and his family, temporarily domiciled in what will be the caretaker's apartment which they will be moving out of once construction is completed (indeed, they had already expected to move on earlier). The only other permanent fixtures in the building are ... ghosts. Yes, they're not that obvious at first (in the story, or the building) but: "the other characters, those bothersome ghosts, were legion".
       Aira lets his tale unfold slowly, meandering about the construction site, first with the future tenants but then also some of the construction workers -- and then especially the night watchman's family: his wife, Elisa, the brood of small children, and the oldest girl, Patri. Elisa had had Patri when she was the age Patri is now, and Patri is at that cusp of adulthood where she is ready to move beyond childish games (as her younger, uncontrollable siblings indulge in) and her decisions have much greater implications.
       Patri's mother warns her about one of the problems with men: "they weren't definitive". But here, on this construction site Patri is confronted, with the even less definitive -- the ghosts. They're real enough here but also not quite everything they seem: Ghosts is a half-allegorical tale, too, as Elisa, for example, explains to her daughter:

     Ah, ghosts ... Well, what is a ghost ? I've been talking about Argentinean men and Chilean men, but that was just to make it clearer, the way animals are used in fables.
       Argentina v. Chile comes up constantly: while the story is set in Argentina, a number of the workers are Chilean (including night watchman Raúl), and Aira suggests all sorts of national characteristics and differences. So, for example, Raúl's nephew, Abel Reyes -- fifteen, though he looks eleven -- takes to wearing his hair long (which he found: "as common in the new country as it was rare back home") without realising that:
the Argentineans with long hair belonged to the lowest social stratum, and were precisely those who had condemned themselves never to escape from it.
       The real here is often like that: misunderstood, the wrong conclusion taken. Ultimately, Patri sees enough and comes to her own conclusions.
       The ghosts in Aira story are like fiction itself:
Knowledge comes through the novels, of course, but not really from them. They are not the ground; you couldn't expect them to be. They're suspended in the void, like everything else. But there they are, they exist; you can't say it's a complete void.
       Patri makes her choice, based on what's before her; it makes for an unusual -- and, yes, haunting -- coming of age novel. Aira's appealing presentation, even as he meanders about, make for an engaging read -- but it is a weird little story.

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Ghosts: Reviews: César Aira: Other books by César Aira under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author César Aira was born in 1949.

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