“The idea was to simulate naturalness, in other words, to make it up as he went along. That might have seemed the easiest thing in the world, the paragon of easiness, but in fact there was nothing more difficult.”
This quote from Varamo, by Cesar Aira, suggests the author’s own methodology. Aira is said to begin with an idea or two and then just go with it, writing full steam ahead and never looking back, never making revisions or altering what has come before no matter how the story develops. His books are short novels, generally around the same length, full of unpredictability and invention, occasionally interrupted with philosophical or literary musings before bounding off again in any direction whatever. So far, six of his several dozen books have been translated into English and published by New Directions. I’ve now read all of those.
Varamo is typical Aira in many ways. There seems to be no possible way to get from his point A to his point B, yet you know full well from the start that he will definitely negotiate a path. Varamo begins when a minor civil servant is paid in counterfeit currency, and ends with his creation of a landmark masterpiece of Latin American poetry, though he is no poet and never wrote anything before or afterward. Along the way there are any number of remarkable and wholly unforeseeable twists and turns. Rather than whodunnits, Aira writes “whadeydos”. They did what? They what? Then what? Really? Are you kidding me?
It’s impossible to describe the innards of an Aira book without revealing the spoilers which constitute the great pleasure of reading them. On the other hand, you can safely highlight some passages which reveal why you would want to:
“He had developed a superstitious fear of the instant, that tiny hole through which all the time available to human beings must pass.”
“Varamo had always wondered how people managed to go on living. Now he thought he knew the answer: they could do it because they didn’t have to wonder how they would change their counterfeit bills.”
“Noise itself made a noise of its own: subtle, doubled over.”
“It is possible to have a nightmare without actually having a nightmare … You only need to find yourself in a certain situation.”
“Life simply had too many qualities, not to mention the impossibility of knowing for certain what they were.”