Saturday 2 May 2015

I went round several bookshops in Cork this morning, took their temperature, toyed with more Edith Pearlman or Lorrie Moore or Jane Gardam, Ovid or Catullus ( I love you and I hate you such a good title), or Mozart's letters to his father; and bought nothing.

At home I considered the longterm book selection at the back of my desk: Cacti and Succulents, the The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, The Perfect Egg by Aldo Buzzi, Reflections and Shadows by Saul Steinberg, Heraclitus' Fragments, The Street of Crocodiles played by Théâtre de Complicité, Tent Pegs by Henri Michaux, Traité du funambulisme by Philippe Petit, What a life! by E.V.L & G.M., and The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Bioy was a friend of Borges in Buenos Aires. Robbe-Grillet found the seeds of Last Year at Marienbad in The Invention of Morel. Which in its turn leaned on The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells which I haven't read or do not remember. Bioy and Borges venerated HG Wells and GK Chesterton and RL Stevenson. From their libraries and drawing rooms in Buenos Aires, they invented elegant tales whose wistfulness strikes you later, after you've put down the book then picked it up next day to re-read as a local rather than as a tourist.

The Invention of Morel derives from the genres of mystery, romance and adventure, but the after-effect is of emotional tectonic plates shifting: a hunted and haunted man on an island off India, a museum which is more like a hotel or a sanatorium, people who are there and not there, plants inimical to life, mosquitos that bite, sour marshes, two suns in the sky, two moons, two books, not copies but the same book twice, a confusion of tides, figments, projections, time-planes, appearances and disappearances, words shouted and not heard or maybe ignored.
I have been thinking about all this for a long time, so now I was quite tired, and I continued less logically: I was not dead until the intruders arrived; when one is alone it is impossible to be dead.
Bioy and Borges have the gentlemanly tone of the earlier English writers they admire: unseated but correct, they get to dream through reason, and don't get out again. Who is dead and who is present and to what extent, if any, when, if ever, is the puzzle you need as you read.

There are illustrations by Borges' sister Norah of stylised crosshatched young women and men outside a house, by the sea, with two suns and at the end with one. The drawings alone stand still in the book. The narrative is vertiginous.

Morel's invention is a kind of camera that even Apple has not produced – yet – that plays pieces of reality over and over again. This is how dead and disturbing eternity can be.
"To make living reproductions, I need living transmitters. I do not create life.
"The thing that is latent in a phonograph record, the thing that is revealed when I press a button and turn on the machine – shouldn't we call that 'life'? Shall I insist, like the mandarins of China, that every life depends on a button which an unknown being can press?

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