Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

Borges led me to Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel. Borges writes that to classify this novella “as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole” while Octavio Paz describes it as a
“perfect novel”. I usually discount blurbs but two such heavy hitters, along with Louise Brooks on the cover, were enough for me to buy this novella and read it in one sitting.

The unnamed narrator is on the run from the police, after a trial where he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He smuggles himself to an uninhabited and diseased island. With its disused swimming pool, chapel and museum, combined with its isolation, the island is the perfect place for him to remain hidden, serving a life sentence of his own design.

The novella is made up of journal entries, which start with the mysterious arrival of other people on the island. They appeared as if from nowhere, sending the narrator into hiding so as to avoid detection and arrest. He creeps around the island, watching the new arrivals unobserved, particularly the beautiful Faustine. He watches her each evening, as she sits on the rocks as the sun sets over the ocean. His unrequited love is sharply observed:

She watches the sunset every afternoon; from my hiding place I watch her. Yesterday, and again today, I discovered that my nights and days wait for this hour. The woman, with a gypsy’s sensuality and a large, bright-colored scarf on her head, is a ridiculous figure. But I still feel (perhaps I only half believe this) that if she looked at me for a moment, spoke to me only once, I would derive from those simple acts the sort of stimulus a man obtains from friends, from relatives, and, most of all, from the woman he loves.

The island's inhabitants become more mysterious the more he learns. Two suns and two moons appear in the sky. The narrator talks of the searing heat and the roots he subsists on and the reader wonders how much of this is “real”, as related in the factual journal, and how much is imagined or hallucinated. I won't discuss the invention of the title, as the revelation of what is happening on the island serves the plot so well.

For me, this was certainly not the perfect novel heralded by Borges and Paz, especially as I read it in translation, but it is readable and tightly plotted. The mystery builds as the threads of the story are woven. It's a book I think I'll reread, as it's short but dense with themes of immortality and metaphysical love.

1 comment:

Sean Jeating said...

Now, this promises once to be praised as serendipity. :)
Very probably I shall soon return.

Kind regards crossing the Channel.