The Invention of Morel,
by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Translated from the Spanish
by Ruth L. C. Simms
La invención de Morel
was first published in 1940
Literary fiction / Classic
Last month, I started rereading Ficciones, and realized I wanted to go deeper, but didn’t have time then to do so. So I am planning to go back to it in December.
In the meantime, this is November, with many book blogging events, for instance Novellas in November.
For the occasion, I decided to read a novella in translation that’s on my Classics Club list: The Invention of Morel. And I discovered in the excellent introduction by Suzanne Jill Levine (NYRB Classics edition) that its author, Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999) was great friends with Jorge Luis Borges, who was also his mentor (and he wrote a prologue for this book). So I’m still in great company!
Despite its shortness, less than 100 pages, The Invention of Morel is packed with intriguing elements and themes. Their modernity is even more striking if you keep in mind that the book was published in 1940.
The story is set on a mysterious island (with an obvious reference to The Island of Dr. Moreau). A man pursued by the police manages to escape there. The book is his diary on the island. He is sure they won’t think of finding him in this deserted place, where a fatal disease won’t let you survive for more than a couple of weeks.
The unnamed narrator still decides to go there, as he is sure he can survive.
When he arrives, he finds remnants of civilization (a museum, a chapel, and a swimming pool), but no one lives there.
Until he does see a group of people. They interact and seem to be doing some secret experimentations, but somehow the fugitive seems invisible to them. Why? How can he reach out to a woman he falls in love with, in that group?
The explanation was unexpected, as a perfect illustration of the importance and possible dangers of perspective, of what we assume sometimes, and the madness it may lead to if you keep stuck there without trying to look at the issue from another angle. But who is mad here? The narrator? The people he sees?
I also liked how the unique love story was connected to the plot, and to the deeper themes of consciousness, identity, and immortality. And what’s the connection between body and soul?
With all the above, in the context of a harsh environment where the narrator is struggling to survive, the book is very dense and tense.
Powerful for the novella format!
I can’t but wonder what Casares would have come up with, if he had lived a few decades later and had knowledge of even more modern technology! And how he would have tried to make bridges between it and metaphysics.
Now I feel like rereading The Island of Dr. Moreau, and also other books mentioned in the introduction: The Turn of the Screw (yes, finally!) and L’Ève future [The Future Eve], written in 1886 by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam.
Might be good too to watch a few movies mentioned: Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Man Facing Southeast (1985).
VERDICT: If you like it when fiction considers metaphysical questions, but are not ready for door stops, you need to try this classic novella!
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Or watched the movies?
What’s your favorite novella in translation?
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