Varamo - César Aira Based on the reviews I've read, and I even did my best to read a few in spanish, I'm going to say that this little expirement was a failure. I will also say that even fans of Aira's books, who read it because they really like his other books, may think that this is a subpar novel for him. Readers who haven't read any of his books should start elsewhere.

Even so, I'm giving it 5 stars, because I think it's that good. This is a very complicated, very slim, novel about abstraction and critism. Many of the reviews (if not all) have described this as a book about a bureaucrat turned poet, and the circumstances under which he wrote his masterwork. That's a mistake. This is a novel about a literary critic, who also happens to the narrator of our story about the bureaucrat, and whom many readers have mistaken for Aira. (It's a common occurance, readers mistaking the narrator's voice for the author's voice, so it's no surprise that it's happened here.) By the way, this review contains spoilers, so you may want to stop reading here. The first clue that our narrator is not the author is the fact that the poet whose story he is telling, and the poem he is deconstructing are not real. The next clue comes almost exactly half way through the novel, when the narrator interupts his telling of the story to begin describing the literary theory he is employing in his criticism, and in which he explains that every detail of the story he is telling about the moments leading up to the writing of the masterwork have been deduced from the masterwork, which is the only document available with any information about itself. The variety of insane inferences that the critic/narrator/protagonist makes about the poet and the poem are (perhaps) a statement about the delusional nature of criticism, in which the critic believes that he can say conclusively what was in the mind of the writer whose work he is criticizing. In fact, not only can our critic/narrator/protagonist read his subjects mind, he even attributes to the poem a literary device called "free indirect style" (really a term mainly used in film theory, but it means that a third person character is able to describe the thoughts of another character) which is ironically the literary device that is being employed by Aira, giving the critic access to the poets thoughts, a sort of internal joke.

That's just one of many such jokes in the novel, but they are all very abstract, including the jokes about abstraction, and obtuse, and the vast majority of readers will not pick up on them. Or perhaps I'm the delisional critic here? Or is that another little joke?

The novel is very small, only 89 pages in my edition, but it took me a whole week to finish. It was so mentally stimulating that every three paragraphs or so, I had to stop and mull, and then I'd usually go back three paragraphs to get my bearings and then maybe have to stop and mull again. It might be the most challenging book I've read this year, and I loved it for that.