In February 1938, in a small hotel on the island of Tigre, near Buenos Aires, Leopoldo Lugones, "the quintessential Argentine writer," committed suicide by drinking cyanide mixed with whiskey.
In his suicide note, he regrets not having managed to finish writing his book on General Julio Argentino Roca, responsible for a campaign of extermination of the indigenous peoples of the Pampa and Patagonia.
But the most widespread hypothesis says that Lugones, the author of
Las Fuerzas Extrañas,
A convinced fascist in those thirties, he suffered from a depression due to his frustrated love with the very young writer María Alicia Domínguez.
So far "the facts."
Now "the shot of reality remains: fiction."
And, as on other occasions, César Aira (Coronel Pringles, 72 years old) takes this fiction to fabulous and delusional extremes.
Hacks in alphabetical order
Argentine writer César Aira, Formentor award
Aira makes the small inn El Tropezón coincide with several characters as caricatures as, in a certain sense, tender (with that form of verisimilitude that is more empathetic than mimetic): the widow who runs the inn, two "hereditary spinsters", the family Goicochet's bourgeoisie, his wife Montina and their two adolescent daughters; the hypnotist Gálmez, a Polish woman smuggled in, a taciturn man very similar to Horacio Quiroga ... And here begins the writing lesson, always unpredictable:
has, at times, the air of an old crime novel of a group of strangers (like those of Agatha Christie), some opportune and hilarious modernist parodies (“the trees gave shape to the air”), several perverse anticlimaxes (“ah, there were gone to shit "), dadaist games and erotic parodies (of a certain animal frankness) and bizarre reflections on the limits between perception and imagination (" And observation, as anyone with two fingers in the forehead knows, is saving steps of thought ”).
Furthermore, as in other novels by Aira, those that are based on "real" writers, such as Carlos Fuentes from
The Literature Congress
, Lugones is haunted by acute reflections on writing. But these should not be read as keys to the poetics of an author, but in a much larger context: as elements of a novel called
. This places them in a playful place, if not overtly ironic: that wonderful irony of Aira, hyperconscious, but more joyous than cerebral, which allows her to always place herself a little above her own findings. For this reason, if we critics repeat that Aira broadens the horizon of possibilities of any story, that her writing formulates hypotheses of style and permeates from one register to another, one of
I would define it in a more sparing way: "It was nothing more than making a possibility real, and if one thinks that this is the natural destiny of possibilities, one can see how little cause for astonishment there was."
Not only the style undergoes surprising transformations in
The characters also mutate: Horacio Quiroga turns out to be a disguise for one of the hotel's clients, an alligator (an alligator-shaped ink stick) finally turns out to be a living alligator named Roberto, with whom Lugones has a passionate conversation about his failure : "Literature is so perverse, look a bit, that you can be the greatest Argentine writer and not be a writer."
And the spaces change, the halls, the gardens unfold ...
Written in 1990 and kept in a drawer for 30 years (which may be another fiction by Aira),
is not a minor book that deserves to be parked, but a wonderful lesson in literary hyper-awareness and pure reading pleasure.
Blatt and Ríos, 2021. 184 pages.
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