The title does not require translation as it is pretty much the same in French or English. This very small novel, or rather novella, does get called a “novela” in Spanish, which is the common term for a novel. In fact, I do not remember from my studies in Spanish literature a term that would distinguish a short novel from a full-length novel. In any case, this book is short: 91 pages in the Penguin edition.
I wanted to read this book for several reasons. One is that I had never read anything by this author but had seen his name in connection with José Luis Borges countless times. Another is that I have this continuing fascination with Argentinean fiction.
So, La invención de Morel… Quite a fascinating little book. It took me the longest time to get into it, and even about 20 pages from the end, I was telling my husband that I just didn’t get this book. It was confusing, I did not like or feel that I could relate to the narrator, and I kept wondering if my Spanish was just not good enough to read this book. I had just gotten through the 740-pages of the latest Ildefonso Falcones without much doubt about my ability to read big Spanish books and I was going to be stumped by this little thing?
Well, there is a twist to this book, it has a bit of a fantastic side and plays on the narrator’s confusion with respect to the situation he finds himself in. He is confined to a deserted island, but does run into some intruders. He has a difficult relationship to these intruders and keeps wondering about the meaning of what he sees and hears… until he finds out what is behind the presence of these intruders and his experience of their presence… which I will not reveal in this post, as this is a the heart of The Invention of Morel, in fact, Morel’s very invention.
Throughout the book, the narrator writes a journal that chronicles his experiences on the island. When he figures out what is Morel’s invention and how it works, he starts reinterpreting his experiences. This completely parallels my experience as a reader. As I started getting a sense of what the invention was, I started reinterpreting the novel myself, in a attempt to make sense of everything from the beginning, and of course to make sense of my awful discomfort with the book itself. At one point, I just had to laught out loud. Now, I think that I will need to read this book again, to fully appreciate the genius of it construction.
José Luis Borges says in his foreword: (freely translated by yours truly) “I have discussed the details of the plot with the author, I have reread it; I do not think it is imprecise nor a hyperbole to call it perfect.” I returned to this sentence time and time again as I read the book. I was looking for reassurance that it was really worth reading… At the same time, I was wondering if Borges was really out of his mind, or just trying to help out a friend. This prologue is copyrighted 1989 which is much, much later than the original publication date of 1940. I did a quick search on the Internet and it did not reveal anything useful on the origin of the foreword.
In the end, I think that this book would be entirely worth reading and rereading… I would love to hear about what others thought of it.
Bioy Casares, Adolfo. La invención de Morel. Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1996 .