Saturday, September 22, 2012

Strange Island

The Invention of Morel

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

"The island vegetation is abundant.  Spring, summer, autumn, and winter plants, grasses, and flowers overtake each other with urgency, with more urgency to be born than to die, each one invading the time and the place of the others in a tangled mass."(p 13) 

The Invention of Morel is a science fiction novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. It was Bioy Casares' breakthrough effort, for which he won the 1941 First Municipal Prize for Literature of the City of Buenos Aires. It shares some elements with The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. This is a tale of a man stranded on an island, one which appears to be inhabited by ghosts. Now I do not believe in ghosts, but when you are stranded on an island the spirits may be a bit closer than they are in the big city. And so it begins. "Today, on this island, a miracle happened: summer came ahead of time."(p 9) Now that may not sound like much of a miracle, but it is enough of one to give this short novel an aura of surprise and suspense. The fugitive who narrates the story is concerned with many things including the views of Thomas Malthus; a sort of population control is just one of the themes that inhabit this small book. Then there is Faustine and it is she who inspires a love that is more real than the island or the body of the tourists who disappear. It is these tourists who like to dance to "Tea for Two" from the Broadway musical "No, No, Nanette, foreshadowing this love that the fugitive bears for Faustine. Strangeness abounds throughout as suggested by the opening miracle, but this is fiction. It is here that dreams of immortality of the spirit inspire in ways that are not possible outside the world of fiction. The fugitive seeks control of his world, a way to deal with others including, possibly, Morel. It is Morel who reminds me of Well's Doctor Moreau.  
The impact of Casares concise and precise writing style is evident throughout the book.  Slowly you begin to realize that each sentence is important to the construction of the whole, references some theme and is essential to the understanding of the Island, the story, and the characters who inhabit this world.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote in the prologue, "To classify it [the novel] as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole." Mexican Nobel Prize winner in Literature Octavio Paz echoed Borges when he said, "The Invention of Morel may be described, without exaggeration, as a perfect novel."

The Invention of Morel by Adolpho Bioy Casares. Trans. by Ruth L. C. Simms. NYRB Classics, 2003 (1964)

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