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The Invention of Morel [Paperback]

Adolfo Bioy Casares , Jorge Luis Borges , Suzanne Jill Levine , Ruth L.C. Simms
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 31 2003 New York Review Books Classics

Jorge Luis Borges declared The Invention of Morel a masterpiece of plotting, comparable to The Turn of the Screw and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Set on a mysterious island, Bioy's novella is a story of suspense and exploration, as well as a wonderfully unlikely romance, in which every detail is at once crystal clear and deeply mysterious.

 

Inspired by Bioy Casares's fascination with the movie star Louise Brooks, The Invention of Morel has gone on to live a secret life of its own. Greatly admired by Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and Octavio Paz, the novella helped to usher in Latin American fiction's now famous postwar boom. As the model for Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year in Marienbad, it also changed the history of film.

 


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The Invention of Morel + Chronicle of a Death Foretold
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Review

"The masterpiece among Bioy Casares' short, intense novels is The Invention of Morel, a book that won raves from Borges (who placed it alongside Franz Kafka's The Trial), was called "perfect" by Octavio Paz, and inspired one of French cinema's most infamous moviesf, Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Though it was published in 1940, the book's continuing relevance was recently proven when it was featured on Lost — a cameo many viewers perceive as a key to that TV show's plot. But that doesn't mean this is a tough tract unfit for quality beach time... Just know that Morel is a poetic evocation of the experience of love, an inquiry into how we know one another, and a still-relevant examination of how technology has changed our relationship with reality. It's also a great read — one you'll be pressing into the hands of your fellow beach-goers." --Boldtype

About the Author

Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999) was born in Buenos Aires, the child of wealthy parents. He began to write in the early Thirties, and his stories appeared in the influential magazine Sur, through which he met his wife, the painter and writer Silvina Ocampo, as well Jorge Luis Borges, who was to become his mentor, friend, and collaborator. In 1940, after writing several novice works, Bioy published the novella The Invention of Morel, the first of his books to satisfy him, and the first in which he hit his characteristic note of uncanny and unexpectedly harrowing humor. Later publications include stories and novels, among them A Plan for Escape, A Dream of Heroes, and Asleep in the Sun (forthcoming from NYRB Classics). Bioy also collaborated with Borges on an Anthology of Fantastic Literature and a series of satirical sketches written under the pseudonym of H. Bustos Domecq. Suzanne Jill Levine is the author of numerous studies in Latin American literature and the translator of works by Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luis Borges, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and Manuel Puig, among other distinguished writers. Levine's most recent book is Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions. She is a professor in the Spanish Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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TODAY, on this island, a miracle happened: summer came ahead of time. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a good book Dec 16 2003
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book because of the rather extravagant praise from Borges and Paz. Apparently it was inspired by the silent film star Louise Brooks, which makes sense: the entire book is about our capacity to love phantoms. All of us probably remember early infatuations with celebrities who never existed for us as anything but reproductions: on paper, televisions, the movie screen.
Essentially, this book imagines what happens when the reproductions become faithful enough to be indistinguishable from the real thing. It is narrated by a man hiding from the police on a deserted island for an undisclosed crime. One day people appear, and the man quickly falls in love with one of the women; strangely enough, they often disappear for short stretches of time, and seem to repeat the same conversations and actions again and again.
All of this is well-written, but when the explanation is given, all that preceded seems to have been time spent waiting for the a-ha twist: it's only after this point that the book becomes really interesting. I won't give away the story, because the plot is worth getting through yourself: let me mention something that it reminded me of, though.
When Apocalypse Now: Redux came out, they restored scenes of Martin Sheen's brief love affair with a French woman on the river, a storyline completely left out of the original cut. The actress, now an old woman, went to the theatres and saw herself young and beautiful again. And something about her youth is now eternal, or at least as eternal as film proves to be.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mind out of time Sept. 20 2003
Format:Paperback
Bioy's masterpiece really is a wonderful "unknown masterpiece" (albeit unknown only in the USA) reissued by the NYRB editors. Inspired by Bioy's obsession with the silent movie actress Louise Brooks, THE INVENTION OF MOREL is a tour de force and exceptionally prescient study of the nature of reality and how it is impinged upon by the virtual realities engendered by time, fantasy, and love. And it is genuinely heartbreaking.
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By Erin
Format:Paperback
I've never read anything like this. This little book is on another level, in its own league - its own universe, really - of literary beauty and ingenuity. Picture a science fiction-meets-fantasy-meets-love story, written by Bioy Casares, in 1940. Jorge Luis Borges - himself one of the most imaginative writers known today - felt it could, without exaggeration, be called 'the perfect novel'. Written in the first person from the perspective of an anonymous fugitive having escaped to a deserted island, the story depicts his strange sights and experiences there, and his journey in ascertaining their cause.

The emphasis on Louise Brooks is, I think, overstated (the NYRB edition of this work also portrays Brooks on the cover - I think this is a somewhat misleading representation of this strange but boldly evocative book, its setting, its literary style - in a word, everything). While Casares' admiration of Brooks did purportedly serve as the inspiration for the relationship between the protagonist and the central female character of the story, that is where the association ends - there is no resemblance whatsoever between Brooks and the enigmatic, empty female character in the novel, who can really be seen as an extension of the bizarre, dream-like and singular world that Casares has masterfully created. Obsessions and intrigues with hollywood actors have become trite in our culture, and dwelling too much on an author's infatuation with an actress has in this case detracted from Bioy-Casares' awe-inspiring talent in penning a story fearlessly imaginative and truly original, communicated through the stark and near-painful self-awareness of its protagonist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
50 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a good book Dec 16 2003
By Gulley Jimson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I picked up this book because of the rather extravagant praise from Borges and Paz. Apparently it was inspired by the silent film star Louise Brooks, which makes sense: the entire book is about our capacity to love phantoms. All of us probably remember early infatuations with celebrities who never existed for us as anything but reproductions: on paper, televisions, the movie screen.
Essentially, this book imagines what happens when the reproductions become faithful enough to be indistinguishable from the real thing. It is narrated by a man hiding from the police on a deserted island for an undisclosed crime. One day people appear, and the man quickly falls in love with one of the women; strangely enough, they often disappear for short stretches of time, and seem to repeat the same conversations and actions again and again.
All of this is well-written, but when the explanation is given, all that preceded seems to have been time spent waiting for the a-ha twist: it's only after this point that the book becomes really interesting. I won't give away the story, because the plot is worth getting through yourself: let me mention something that it reminded me of, though.
When Apocalypse Now: Redux came out, they restored scenes of Martin Sheen's brief love affair with a French woman on the river, a storyline completely left out of the original cut. The actress, now an old woman, went to the theatres and saw herself young and beautiful again. And something about her youth is now eternal, or at least as eternal as film proves to be.
I find it completely plausible, for example, that one could find a bundle of old home videos and be so charmed by a woman in them (since I'm a man) that you fall in (some sort of) love with her, even though she is probably either dead now or a completely different woman. But in some way the image of her is real, in the sense that it exists on the tapes and in your own head.
These are some of the ideas that this book plays with and, I must say, it is more fascinating for the ideas it provokes than the narrative itself. In many ways, it feels like second-rate Borges: The Circular Ruins (or a few other stories) stretched to novella length. What Casares should have accomplished with this length is given Faustine (the woman) some sort of character that seemed worthy of the reader's love, and not just the narrator's. At the moment she's a non-entity.
So this story isn't heartbreaking, as the other reviewer (whose flimsy review, frankly, shows no evidence that he actually read the book) tries to say. The Invention of Morel is the work of a talented but not brilliant writer. Perhaps another flaw of this book is that the ideal medium for the story seems to be film; I can see why this was, supposedly, the inspiration for Last Year at Marienbad.
In any case, if these ideas strike you as interesting, I recommend this book. It's really very short, and perhaps not worth paying this much for, since I wouldn't care to have it as part of my permanent collection; I read it first in the library, where it had several short stories from Bioy (NYRB might have included those) as well as several lovely woodcut illustrations.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost of Lulu July 2 2008
By lili - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The cover picture and the blurb on the back indicate that Louise Brooks had something to do with it all....And so, knowing this, I brought what I knew of LB to my reading of 'The Invention of Morel'. As a result, I don't find fault with the character development (as other reviews here do) - why should I? This tale is about the elusive nature of beauty, the mystery of cinema, the hard to pin down quality of a great silent movie actress. To imagine what the narrator experiences - the coming to life of someone who's charisma and beauty resembles that of Louise Brooks - against the backdrop of a strange island, the eerie repetitious jazz music on the phonograph, the at once lush and deadened landscape - is descriptive enough. The narrator never knows the characters - Half-crazed, he doesn't even know himself! This is an absolutely brilliant, highly atmospheric tale.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intricate and Strange Psychological Thriller July 5 2009
By John J. Coyne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A character who could be straight out of Borges's "Universal History of Iniquities" takes refuge from the law on a deserted tropical island where he witnesses some pretty strange stuff (I'm trying to be vague here). What seems to begin as the story of a man's slow descent into paranoia turns into what seems like a ghost story before eventually becoming something entirely different - something that could have sprung from the mind of Gene Wolfe or Philip K. Dick on a good day.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Eternity Aug. 22 2008
By nemo galletti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel is a metaphor about interpersonal communications, and tells about the transformation of an individual trying to be accepted by a society to which -initially- he doesn't belong. It is based on a wonderful idea, that in my opinion is enough to classify this book as a masterpiece, even if the writing style is not particularly rich. The book has two different layers: its appearance and its not-openly disclosed messages. The appearance is an intriguing novel based on a sci-fi type of idea: a fugitive man escapes to an island populated by people that are totally not interested in him. His initial fear and attempts to hide from them slowly transforms into his desperate wish to interact with them, pushing him up to the final limit when, understood that the people are inanimate, endless cyclic tridimensional representation of a party that happened years before (and that, due to the radiations ejected by the special movie camera used, lead to the death of their actors) the man sacrifice his own life by simulating being one of the group, filming himself with the special cameras and preparing to die for that.
This may be read as a metaphor of the compromises that we accept in order to be part of a society: in the end our feelings, our dreams, our goals are only representations and, when we are finally part of it, our individuality expires.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to categorize --or to put down Feb. 7 2012
By A. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What makes you decide to read a book? It does not matter that the book was inspired by Louise Brooks but that could be intriguing enough for a start. It is encouraging when someone like Borges- the fantasist - recommends it. Comparisons to Philip K.Dick or Chesterton are handy, perhaps, as a hint. You may wonder how all of these very different references fit in this slim book. But finally, when you do read it, all those references have to fall away (but perhaps not too far away) and the book must stand on its own. Bioy Casares has created a surprising little marvel.

Our hero is escaping the police for an unnamed capital crime, and finds himself on an island (a map is provided) decorated with three pristine buildings on the hill, but otherwise a barely hospitable place of vicious high tides, mosquitoes, swamps, reeds and misery. As you work through this environment, Borges does come to mind, as it seems fantastic, with the imagery that seems a signature of South America genius. You'll find yourself trying to determine whether what he describes is real or his own imaginings. After exploring every cranny of the buildings --and the descriptions remind me of art deco drawings, clean, clear, balanced but at the same time ornate-- he finds one day that the island is suddenly inhabited. Not wanting to be discovered, he skulks around the visitors, drawn especially to the pensive and lovely Faustine and the book slips from Borges to a period mystery, a la Chesterton. His understanding of the situation increases and it becomes more like a science fiction invention (the reference to Philip K Dick)... but still there is more, and when you realize there IS more, it becomes Casares' own novel, and stands on its own.

It becomes a meditation on the nature of reality and our inability to separate the appearance from the nature of what is observed, the thin border between our own projections and fact, and even our willingness to consciously live in delusion. Does our hero become insane or is the answer to the mystery the whole answer, and his solution rational?

This is a very short book, with twice the atmosphere. It is intriguing even while it feels like it is of its own time (1925 or so). When you finish it (in a day perhaps) you may want to read it again to take the time to notice how Casares has molded so many elements into a coherent story, building dread, curiosity and solutions incredibly cleverly. This is definitely worth your time if you like a book that is bigger than itself.
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