by César Aira
translated by Nick Caistor
I didn’t exactly love this book, but the second I finished it, I felt an urge to write about it. And that doesn’t happen so often lately (as you might have guessed from the declining frequency of reviews on this website). So it clearly had an effect on me.
This slim novella manages to be both thoughtfully philosophical and explosive with action – it just does one then the other. There is a sense of menace from the start, when 16-year-old schoolgirl Marcia is out for a walk in Buenos Aires and realises that as it is starting to get dark, big groups of young people are beginning to gather outside cafes and record shops. Out of the blue she is propositioned “Wannafuck?” – which is actually the first word of the story.
The shout has come from two girls around Marcia’s age who are dressed as punks (the novel was written in 1989) and follow her as she tries to hurry away and ignore them. When that tack doesn’t work, she strikes up a conversation and finds herself both appalled and fascinated by their crude antagonism. The girls – who call themselves Mao and Lenin – agree to go with Marcia to a cafe to talk and this is where the bulk of the story takes place.