Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gentrification Mysteries, Pt. III

"Invitations to a magic party with ghosts were obviously going to be very rare."

And now for the best of the lot: Cesar Aira's Ghosts. Brilliant. I loved it. Not strictly speaking a gentrification mystery at all, though it does deal obliquely with class and housing. (And with all the condos that have been sitting around Greenwood Heights for two years, empty and abandoned, and next to a cemetery no less, it's no wonder the damn book appealed to my sense of the macabre and love of human folly.) It's mysteries, though, are a little more ... divine.

The better a novel is, I find, the more difficult it is to describe. I'll give it a shot. I found Ghosts to be very cinematic in its structure. Visually evocative. Subtly set up, brilliantly paid off. Oddly leisurely, dreamlike. Beautifully multi-layered. And minimal, yet crammed with little asides that led off in fantastic directions.

Perhaps a sample would be better:

"But she didn't go down those mysterious passageways, preferring to remain on the surface of her frivolity, because there was also a dialectical relation between thought and secrecy. Or, more pertinently in this case, between thought and time. It would be like a painter who has to delay the completion of a picture for technical reasons, say to allow certain layers of color to dry, and meanwhile is assailed by new ideas -- a figure, a mountain, an animal and so on-- which go on filling up the painting until the pressure of multiplicity makes it explode."

The story takes place over a single day, New Year's Day, in a luxury high rise that is not yet finished. The place is lousy with ghosts, who appear only to the caretaker's family. The ghosts show themselves to the family's adolescent daughter -- she's at the poltergeist age -- and invite her to a magical party. Throughout the book, her mother reminds her that one day she'll have to find a real man. The ghosts are all men. Real men? Perhaps.

At one point, the daughter tells a story of Oscar Wilde's in which a little princess in her tower becomes bored with her life and runs off to join a ghostly party ... I wondered if this was a real Wilde story. I know his short fiction pretty well, having read and re-read much of it as a child, but I don't know this one. If anybody out there does, please tell me. I'd love to read it.

As for you, get out and buy a copy of this book.

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