Yesterday the postman brought me something that always comes as a nice surprise: the latest book from And Other Stories, an independent publisher of translated fiction who offer a book subscription service in order to fund their projects. This time it was The Proof by César Aira that arrived at my doorstep, a ‘novelita’ originally published in 1992 and now translated into English for the first time by Nick Caistor.
Aira is a hugely prolific writer from Argentina – to date, he has written over 80 books, an almost unimaginable feat, but one that became a little clearer after I’d read The Proof, if this book is in any way typical of Aira’s normal style. I found it a little hard-going to begin with, but once I’d got into the rhythm of the swirling sentences and the abstract style of prose, I found myself drawn into its surreal world and before I knew it, I’d finished the whole thing. When I saw the single date at the end of its 100 pages (27th May 1989) I was hardly surprised that it had been written in the course of one day. Even reading it felt like riding on a feverish wave of words and ideas and bizarre characters.
I don’t want to say too much about the content of the book, but to give you a vague taste: the main character, Marcia, is unexpectedly drawn into the world of two “punks” calling themselves Mao and Lenin, who proposition her in the street one evening. The conversations between the three teenage girls are philosophical, sometimes to the point of being quite opaque, and they underline the deep sense of unsettling dread that builds up to a sudden and hugely dramatic climax.
The two punks looked at her with neutral, serious expressions. That expression, which expressed nothing, was one of pure violence. They were violence. There was no escaping the fact. She wasn’t going to emerge scot-free from her audience with the punks, as she had absent-mindedly assumed.
Like many short books that can be read in one sitting, I have a feeling that the strong impression left by The Proof will be lodged in my mind for a long time to come.