Love and Carnage in A Combustible Tour de Force that Explores Female Sexuality and Ultra-Violence

Following a rather hectic weekend, I found myself with an hour to kill before my train on Sunday. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and a beer and a nice sit down beckoned. Luckily, I managed to squeeze into a tight, comfy nook, beer in hand and was able to remain pleasantly unbothered by the rest of the world. However, upon opening the slim, delightful volume I have had the lucky task of reviewing, a herd of elephants could have come crashing into the table next to me and I doubt I would have noticed. Luckily, I didn’t miss my train but it was a distinct possibility as I raced through the spellbinding tale in front of me. 

That all consuming volume was The Proof by César Aira, translated by Nick Caistor and published by & Other Stories, a publisher which focuses on contemporary world-class fiction. The Proof is a seductive novella, coming in at a mere 100 pages, from one of Latin America’s most prolific and influential writers. He is known for producing eccentric, unusual narratives and has a deep appreciation for an avant-garde aesthetic which often leads to less than traditional narratives and open-ended conclusions. 

As well as The Proof, César Aira has published around eighty books, at a phenomenal rate of two to four novellas a year. Whilst there are too many titles to list here, some examples of work already translated into English include The Seamstress and The Wind, which ‘quickly seduced’ Patti Smith, The Hare and most recently Ema the Captive. He has been nominated for, and won, a number of awards including two Konex Awards, a Prix Roger Caillois and was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2015. 

“Just think, there’s so little separating you from your destiny. You only have to say yes.”

Whilst The Proof may be brief, it certainly packs a punch. Centred on an afternoon spent with Marcia, Mao and Lenin, the story moves at a breakneck pace. From the initial meeting between this unlikely trio to the blood splattered ultraviolent finale, there is no chance to come up for air. Quiet, unassuming Marcia’s life is turned upside down when, walking down the street, she hears “Wannafuck?”. Initially disgusted and vaguely threatened by the two punk girls before her, she is nevertheless intrigued enough to go with them, a decision which will have life changing consequences. This fateful meeting, Marcia’s childlike curiosity and Mao and Lenin’s antagonistic sexuality create a perfect storm for mayhem to ensue and it doesn’t take long for them to leap into a rabbit hole of nihilistic anarchy.

instances of mild disobedience and vanilla anarchy give way to apocalyptic violence and pandemonium

“Because you are you…Because you’re the one I love.”

Love is the main theme here, in a fiercely childish guise. For Marcia, the apparently immediate love facing her is oppressive and unexpected, for Mao and Lenin it is inevitable. However, love requires proof and so a chain of events is set in motion which culminates in a shocking act of violence and rage. Marcia is the most interesting character here, from the start she seems to be restless and searching and so, despite protests to the contrary, seems to be both flattered by the attention of Mao and curious about the possibilities her lifestyle offers. Rather than being a victim or an innocent bystander, it appears that Marcia is complicit in the disorder and carnage before her. 

”In the darkness of the flames, in the crystal of smoke and blood, the scene was multiplied in a thousand images…”

César Aira takes on a number of challenging themes here, from sexuality to youthful alienation in a frank and uncompromising style. The characters are well constructed and the narrative flows easily. This makes the ending even more shocking, as instances of mild disobedience and vanilla anarchy give way to apocalyptic violence and pandemonium. The idea of freedom in a world which requires conformity is taken to its violent extreme here and is managed skilfully by César Aira which makes the progression of Mao and Lenin’s rebellious descent into lawlessness seem feasible and even preordained. 

The loose, lyrical style of César Aira’s writing, the expert use of vulgarity and violence and the avant-garde style of The Proof make this an uncompromising story. The narrative is engaging and utterly absorbing from start to bloody end, offering overt sexuality, uncouth youth and brazen savagery in a brutal introduction to César Aira’s work.

The Proof takes the reader on a thrill ride through Buenos Aires, down streets lined with possibility, punks, and violence. Love, mayhem, and burgeoning female sexuality combine in a combustible tour de force which quickly escalates into an astonishing climax which will leave you shaken.

With a less than typical narrative style, this brief and punchy social satire may make you reconsider popping out for a pint of milk.

The Proof is published by & Other Stories and is available now.

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