After reading both Crime and Punishment and The Three Musketeers this month, I really needed something quick and easy, engaging, and yet unique to catch my attention and give myself a break from the excellent but long masterworks my mind has been wrestling for the past three or four weeks.
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares was a perfect book for such a time. Although I read the novella quickly and enjoyed it simply as a fantasy story, it has depth that I suspect would benefit from more serious reading and study.
An unnamed narrator has fled to an abandoned island to avoid serving a sentence. After a few months, strange visitors, including a beautiful woman, arrive. His reaction of paranoia caused me to wonder at first if the story was really a psychological study. However, I quickly came to see that it is a science fiction/ fantasy story that questions reality. Suffice it to say that things are not as they appear on a few different levels. In the introduction, Suzanne Jill Levine writes, “[Bioy’s] narrators say less rather than more, inviting one to read between the lines” (page xiv). I think that is a perfect way to describe what is going on, and what Bioy Casares wants us to find in the story.
I was intimidated by Bioy Casares because I knew he was friends with Jorge Luis Borges and I didn’t really “get” Borges when I read him last year. I was delighted to find The Invention of Morel to be such a quick and engaging read, and yet one that has depth if I chose to read it on a deeper level in the future. (I checked out the Spanish original as well, but since it’s been a heavy reading month for me, I chose not to read it at this time. Maybe I’ll try Spanish when I decide to revisit it!)
I realize I haven’t shared very much about the book. It’s less than 100 pages, though, so I wanted to avoid spoilers. If this mysterious and fantastical island sound like it appeals to you, you should give it a try. I have to say I’m also curious to read The Island of Moreau by H.G. Wells which was somewhat of the inspiration. Have you read that book?
If my word isn’t enough, take the word of Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares’ close friend and literary mentor. He did not hesitate in his praise:
To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole. (from the Prologue by Jorge Luis Borges, page 7)
I can’t say I loved it quite that much, but I certainly did enjoy it.
A question: I say “science fiction/fantasy” because I’m not sure what category it fits in. It’s supposedly explained by science, but I suspect such science is actually impossible. What makes a novel science fiction? What makes it fantasy?
I picked up this book because I saw it in the New York Review Books catalogue. The Spotlight Series is highlighting this small publisher in May. Sign up before April 30 to invite them to your blog!