rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
Review of the book I read Saturday, July 23rd.

Adolfo Bioy Casares was Jorge Luis Borges' best friend. The Invention of Morel (La invención de Morel), published in 1940, was the first novel Casares felt was really successful. He'd been publishing for several years at that point-- in fact he started in the late 1920s, with short stories-- but Morel was where his style came into its own. The introduction is by Borges and the cover of the first edition by Borges' sister Norah. It is, however, definitely a book to be appreciated for itself, rather than for its connection with a writer who turned out to be more famous.

Morel comes from Casares' lasting obsession with the film star Louise Brooks, and his meditations on the philosophical implications of the cinema.

A man, a fugitive, escapes to a deserted island, which has on it only a chapel, a museum, and a swimming pool. The island is generally shunned because it is supposed to be the incubation ground of a terrible and deadly disease, but the fugitive prefers the possibility of illness to the certainty of life in prison. One day, he sees a beautiful woman sitting on the rocks and watching the sunset, despite the fact that no boat has come to the island. A large party of tourists appear to have taken up residence in the museum: they dance on the lawn, they swim in the pool. They have conversations which repeat in a strange way. They play the same two records over and over again, annoyingly. Gradually the fugitive realizes that they are images, the simulacra of people who came to this island at some point previously. But what caused the images? What is making them repeat? And is there any way for him to find out whether the image of the woman (whom he has grown to love) is capable of seeing and understanding him?

This is a novel which knows something about the science fiction tradition-- the name Morel is meant to recall Moreau-- but which is working in what at first appears to be an almost surrealist mode. The viewpoint is tightly confined, and one is never quite certain about the narrator's sanity. The language is spare and taut, and the logic has both the inexorable building of fact on fact that one expects from hard SF and the flowing image-linkages of a dream. It's quite short, more novella length than novel, but it packs a lot in.

Alain Robbe-Grillet would later fall in love with it and cite it as the work that directly produced his Last Year at Marienbad. I am inexpressibly charmed to know that there is a causal link between the career of Louise Brooks and Last Year at Marienbad.

The Invention of Morel is a quiet masterpiece, without a sentence out of place. It's available now from the New York Review of Books press, as are so many wonderful things. It deserves to be read more by science fiction readers and by persons who write about the history of science fiction; it also deserves to be read by people who enjoy suspense novels, or surrealism, or trying to understand odd first-person narratives. In short, it ought to have a wide audience; I never heard of it when I was going through my adolescent readings of all the criticism I could find. This is one of those books that still reads as though it was written yesterday.

Date: 2011-07-26 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Alain Robbe-Grillet would later fall in love with it and cite it as the work that directly produced his Last Year at Marienbad.

That is, in fact, awesome.

[—Sovay]

Date: 2011-08-07 04:57 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I am inexpressibly charmed to know that there is a causal link between the career of Louise Brooks and Last Year at Marienbad.

Aww, fantastic!

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