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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Carlos Fuentes

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To purchase Aura

Title: Aura
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1962 (Eng. 1965)
Length: 145 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Aura - US
Aura - UK
Aura - Canada
Aura - India
Aura - Deutschland
Aura - Italia
Aura - España
  • Spanish title: Aura
  • This is a bilingual edition that includes the original Spanish text
  • Translated by Lysander Kemp
  • Aura was loosely adapted into a film, La strega in amore, in 1966, directed by Damiano Damiani

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Our Assessment:

B : atmospheric, but too familiar a tale to keep the suspense at high enough a level

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. C- 28/11/1965 Alexander Coleman
The Times . 7/4/1990 Dinah Birch

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although burdened by the use of a clumsy second-person narration, the novella starts well enough (.....) The plot thickens unconvincingly, only to end with a macabre Houdini-like switch of mistresses on the last page. Admittedly, there is an appropriately ghoulish atmosphere pervading the tale, and there are some telling moments in the depiction of the old woman. (...) Nonetheless, we've seen it all before, if not in Poe or in Wilde, then surely in the Faulkner of A Rose for Emily. In any case, Fuentes doesn't seem to be interested in his story. The paucity of detail gives the impression not of conscious selection, but of careless writing, more like a sketch for a novel than a viable short story. Incidentally, it is just that -- a short story. (...) (A) thin book in every sense." - Alexander Coleman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is an old-fashioned ghost story, and a good one -- though at £4.95 for 57 pages its frissons come rather expensive." - Dinah Birch, The Times
  • "(I)n my mind Fuentes' best, most lasting work of art, a genuine little gem he wrote in the '60s. Unique in that it is told in the second person (how many novels can you think of that employ such a strategy ?), it is about the quest to understand Mexico's emblematic revolutionary past from the perspective of a young historian infatuated with a woman who might not or not be real. Magical realism, that obnoxious literary category that sticks like chewing gum to Fuentes and his Latin American cohorts Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Julio Cortázar, might have here its most illustrious example." - Ilan Stavans, San Francisco Chronicle (27/8/2012)

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:

       Carlos Fuentes really aims for immediacy in his small novella, Aura -- cleverly packaged as a bilingual edition, so that it doesn't appear quite so thin. Not only is it written in the second person, forcing the reader into the position of the protagonist, Felipe Montero, but it is also written in the present tense. It's a risky approach -- not every reader is willing or able to go along with text that insists:

Your sleep is heavy and unsatisfying. In your dreams you had already felt the same vague melancholy, the weight on your diaphragm, the sadness that won't stop oppressing your imagination.
       But the unusual choice of perspective and tense are certainly jarring enough to make for that immediacy Fuentes is after.
       The story has Montero come across a small advertisement in a newspaper that seems tailored to him:
Wanted, young historian, conscientious, neat. Perfect knowledge colloquial French.
       It also offers an apparently generous salary of four thousand pesos a month, and: "all meals, comfortable bedroom-study". Sounding almost too good to be true, Montero can't immediately bring himself to apply for the position; when he returns to the café the next day and sees the advert again he finally decides to pursue it.
       When he reaches the house he finds himself immediately immersed in darkness, literal and otherwise. He makes his way to the room of Señora Consuelo, the ancient crone who placed the ad, and she explains to him that she wants the memoirs of her late husband -- very late: he died sixty years earlier -- put in order so they can be published before she dies. Practically before he realizes it, Montero is seduced by and caught in this peculiar but also seductive web, not even leaving the house again to get his things (a servant retrieves them for him).
       The presence of the alluring Aura, Señora Consuelo's companion and niece, whose sea-green eyes: "surge, break to foam, grow calm, then surge again like a wave" certainly have something to do with that.
       He settles in, in a manner of speaking, quickly: there's the occasional audience with the old lady, more and less communal meals, a bit of work on those memoirs -- and on his own ambitious historic work -- but Montero remains rather overwhelmed by it all and seems to be in a constant state of readjusting. The earthy smells of the place, the animals -- rats, a rabbit, cats, and a goat --, these two women, and the pervasive darkness: it is, to put it mildly, a strange place. The two women are also strange characters, and even as Montero is seduced by Aura's aura, he can't quite come to grips with her. Which is, of course, part of the point and final twist -- which also doesn't come entirely as a surprise.
       Montero struggles:
     You fall into a stupor, into the depths of a dream that's your only escape, your only means of saying No to insanity.
       But Aura's pull is too great, and the creepy ending inevitable .....
       Aura is a quite well-told gothic tale, but striking only in its approach -- that second-person voice, and present tense -- while the story itself feels rather familiar. (Note that critic Ilan Stavans suggests/claims that: "it is about the quest to understand Mexico's emblematic revolutionary past", but if so that aspect is certainly presented in far too subtle a manner for me to have even guessed that's what Fuentes was after.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 September 2012

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Aura: Reviews: La strega in amore - the film: Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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