The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

I had intended that my read of this classic novella by Adolfo Bioy Casares would coincide with Spanish Lit Reading Month (and I believe there might have been a group read somewhere). I *did* read it in July, but didn’t manage to review it in time; nevertheless, as it’s definitely going to be one of my books of the year, it certainly deserves some discussion!

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I first wrote about Bioy Casares when I reviewed the spoof crime he wrote with wife Silvina Ocampo – “Where There’s Love, There’s Hate”. I loved the book, and I’ve been keen to explore more of both authors’ works (Ocampo’s NYRB short story collection is sitting on Mount TBR). However, for some reason “Morel” called to me first, plus it was nice and slim, so I picked up a copy for July. The book comes highly recommended, with Borges calling it a masterpiece of plotting, but oddly enough the blurb on the back gives little away…

The book is narrated in the first person, and we never know that individual’s name. The location is an island in Polynesia and the narrator appears to be hiding from something; he’s a fugitive, in effect, but we don’t know what from. But he becomes aware of others on the island and begins to keep a diary record of events. The appearance of the new people causes a tremor in him, and conflicting emotions take hold: he’s afraid of meeting them in case they give him away to the authorities, but longs for contact, particularly when he becomes entranced with the beautiful Faustine. However, things are not quite as they seem; the behaviour of the newcomers is repetitive, and Faustine in particular seems to go through the same actions every day. But suddenly the visitors disappear; the structure of the buildings seems fluid; there is a strange piece of machinery in the bay, which the narrator cannot make sense of; and when the visitors return their behaviour and perceptions seem inconsistent with his.

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To say any more about this perfect little novella would ruin the impact, and it’s so hard to discuss without spoilers – I already fear I may have said too much! “The Invention of Morel” is one of the cleverest, most thought-provoking and most enjoyable books I’ve read in ages. It’s short enough to read in one session (and I really recommend you do so) and it just leaves you breathless. Is it science fiction? Romance? Thriller? Mystery? A bit of all those, really, but something unique in itself. I’m not going to say anything else, despite wanting to discuss it in depth; because I feel this is a book you should approach with no preconceptions (which I’m happy to say I did) and simply read it for the joy of a work that will take you to unexpected places and leave you meditating on the meaning of our perceptions of reality. This was a rare five-star read for me and I loved it!

(As an aside, when I looked the book up online after reading it, I found a fascinating piece here about the translation and editing of this book. So it seems this might not be the complete text of Bioy Casares, which is frustrating – oh, to be multilingual….)

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