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55 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2003
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.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2008
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2009
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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2008
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2014
There is a strange, lingering loneliness to this novel that is really intriguing. I kept thinking about how it is sometimes when you walk into a room full of people who all know each other and are having a conversation that you know nothing about - how you feel out of slip from everyone, detached and a little crazed to get caught up with your surroundings.

The images in the novel are even more extraordinary: people in 1920's formal dress dancing on the grassy hillside in the summer evening to the music of a distant phonograph, two suns rising and setting overhead each day, the erratic tides, strange machines in the basement.

But more than anything is the narrator's desire to be with the mysterious Faustine. His solution at the end of the story is perfect and also sadly touching. I kept thinking about those lonely people you see on the internet who badly photoshop themselves into pictures of more interesting situations or with people they've never actually met.

Overall the novel deals with the nostalgia for a time that never really existed but which our memories have tricked us into believing are real. You could say that the process our narrator goes through is a literal interpretation of what our own brain does when, given enough time, it alters our memory of past events and paints a more pleasing image. If you could study the phenomena of lost memory under the microscope you might see one scene slowly dissolve away into nothingness and you might even be a little frightened by the whole process, too.

This one will stay with me for awhile (I hope).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I am not a fan of fantasy or science fiction, but occasionally I give the genres another try. My latest attempt was THE INVENTION OF MOREL. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, in the prologue to the novella, that to call it "perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole." Octavio Paz said that it "may be described, without exaggeration, as a perfect novel." Given such extravagant praise, how dare one not like it?

I often face the same question when considering modern art. Despite extravagant praise from critics, I don't particularly like much modern art. To me, some of it is bewildering; some of it is simply pretentious; and too much of it is just plain ugly. In reading THE INVENTION OF MOREL, I never really thought it "just plain ugly" (actually, it is imbued with a sort of plangent lyricism), and by the end of the novella I no longer was tempted to think of it as pretentious. But I was left with a rather large measure of bewilderment, and I don't sense (as with Kafka, for instance) that going back and trying to unravel and then decipher and understand the tale will be worth the effort.

The nameless first-person narrator, escaping from the imposition of a criminal sentence, washes up on a deserted island where, curiously enough, there nonetheless is a "museum" with strange and intricate machinery, a chapel, and a swimming pool. After being there a while, a group of "tourists" suddenly appear on the island. The narrator becomes infatuated with one of the women, Faustine (who, judging from the cover of the book, looks a lot like silent movie star Louise Brooks), but, try as he might, he is unable to interact with Faustine. Nor, it turns out, is he able to interact with any of the other tourists, including their apparent leader, Morel. Eventually, the narrator realizes that the weekly activities of the tourists are being repeated, perhaps endlessly. It is all, he learns, because of an elaborate invention of Morel.

Among the themes raised by the novella are the quest for immortality, human loneliness and isolation, the tragic circumstances of love, and solipsism and the mind/body problem. Borges says, in his prologue, that Bioy Casares renews in literature a concept "expressed in memorable cadences" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

I am willing to attribute it to personal idiosyncrasies, but I prefer Rossetti over Bioy Casares. But then, as said, I am not a fan of fantasy or science fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2012
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2014
I found the simple beauty of the written word the best part of this book. I read the narrative itself before I read the Introduction, just to challenge myself. Fantasy itself is not one of my favorite genres, but I loved the Magical Realism of "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Garcia Marquez. This novella, seemed at first, to be a story without a classic plot line. About midway through, I felt I had discovered the truth of the narrator.
The 1st person POV centered on a man who is living on an island in order to escape the "authorities" and prison. Strangers come into his world and he finds himself beguiled by a woman named Faustine. When I began to question the reality of her very existence, the true nature of the narrator became apparent. I won't give anything away here. No spoiler am I.
Upon finishing the book, I then read the Introduction. My thoughts were confirmed.
This book has been described as a classic in it's genre. I'm sure it is, but I couldn't find a true emotional connection with the characters.
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on June 18, 2014

This is my first review, so I'm excited!

Anyway, I wanted to say that this book is short and I wish that it was longer because it really is so beautiful, but Casares' way of presenting his profound message of love is purposely simple, like the art of haiku, which is something you can only appreciate.

There are a few things you should be ready for if you decide to read this story.

First, it builds slow. It reminds me of a Himalayan lily. The plant can take 5 to 7 years before it blooms, but when it does, it produces the world's largest and arguably, most regal lily. So there are a lot of details in this book that seem unnecessary and feel as if they lead to nowhere, but a little patience is a small price to pay for such a flower and you will see that the flavor is certainly worth a bit of chewing.

The same can be said for Casares' writing style. It takes a while to reveal its poetic brilliance, so don't be discouraged with the first pages of dry narration. In fact, I believe the most precious or at least the most poetically significant line in the entire book is the last one. Casares is a master of subtlety.

Also, be prepared to be wrong. Things are not as they seem. Not for you, not for the characters in this book, not for anyone. The mystery of this story will eat its way to the bottom of your soul and you'll be questioning your own existence long after you read it. I think it's perfect the way this happens.

Well the last thing I'd like to say is that I see many people mentioning fantasy and science fiction. And it's true that the Invention of Morel broadly dismisses the scientific laws of real life, but that's not the main concern of this story. What I mean is that you don't walk away from this experience totally awed by the possibility of imaginary constructions the way you might after reading something like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and if that's what you're looking for, you might be disappointed with this, as the sci-fi aspect, though convincing, is extremely short-lived. But it's okay because what you get is something much more substantial: a message of hope to anyone who has known loneliness in the desperate throes of love.
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on December 7, 2013
The Invention of Morel was adjudged a perfect work by Jorge Luis Borges, the author's mentor/friend/frequent collaborator. Anybody familiar with the essays and short fiction of Borges can appreciate what it would mean for one of the great masters of world literature to make such a pronouncement. Perhaps part of Borges's appraisal reflects how Adolfo Bioy Casares does indeed share much of his same aesthetic and literary sensibilities (after all, they collaborated on 12 books). More specifically, here are some obvious similarities between the writing of the two authors:
* The Invention of Morel is only 100 pages, not too much longer than Borges's longer tales.
* Similar to stories like The Circular Ruin and The Aleph, and many, if not most of Borges's other tales, The Invention of Morel deals with more than one level of `reality'.
* The language and writing is beautiful (this comes through in English translation). This short novel is more like Borges writing in Doctor Brodie's Report and The Book of Sand, where Borges, for the most part, let go of his more ornate, baroque style.

Since a number of people have made more general comments about this novel, for the purpose of this review, I will focus on one aspect of this work: the relationship between the novel and the author's and our experience of film and television.

The 1920s are the heyday of silent films. The first commercially successful sound film, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1929. Black and White 1940s TV was as raw as raw can be - just look at those 1949 TV shows on You Tube. In 1940 (the year The Invention of Morel was published) ideas about what would become TV where `in the air'; what really had a grip on people's imagination in the 1920s and 1930s was film, first silent film then sound film.

So, one can imagine a sensitive, imaginative literary artist like Adolfo Bioy Casares (born 1914) experiencing silent film in the 1920s as a boy and then sound films as a teenager and young man. One thing that makes The Invention of Morel so compelling is just how much of what the narrator and others in the novel experience is parallel to the reader's experience of a world saturated with films and TV and now, the virtual reality of the computer age.

Here are a number of quotes from the novel coupled with my reflections:

"They are at the top of the hill, while I am far below. From here they look like a race of giants . . ." (page 12) ---- Darn, if this wasn't my exact experience when I went to my first movie. I was so overwhelmed by the race of giants `up there' on the screen, I fled from the theater minutes after the movie started.

"I saw the same room duplicated eight times in eight directions as if it were reflected in mirror." (page 18) --- Again, darn. I recall my almost disbelief when, as a kid, I saw the same image repeated a dozen times when I first saw all those TVs turned to the same station in a department store. There was something freaky about the exact movement and image repeated on all those sets.

"I went back to see her the next afternoon, and the next. She was there, and her presence began to take on the quality of a miracle." (page 25) How many teenagers, young men and women and even older adults have fallen in love with a movie star and go back to the movies to see their loved one the next night and the next?

" . . . words and movements of Faustine and the bearded man coincided with those of a week ago. The atrocious eternal return." (page 41) In a way, isn't that the world of movies - the same exact people doing exactly the same thing night after night up there on the screen. Live performances and live theater doesn't even come close to the movie's eternal return.

" . . . horrified by Faustine, who was so close to me, actually might be on another planet." (page 53) How many men and women who have fallen in love with a star in a film or on a TV show where they are so close they can press their hands against the star's face (the TV screen) come to realize their emotions and feelings are for a being a universe away, far beyond their actual touch.

""Tea for Two" and "Valencia" persisted until after dawn." (page 62) Most appropriate! Films and TV thrive on easy-to-remember songs and jingles.

"I began to search for waves and vibrations that had previously been unattainable, to devise instruments to receive and transmit them." (page 69). It is as if the author were touching into the collective unconscious desire in 1940 to expand film in different ways, one way being what would become TV.

" I was certain that my images of persons would lack consciousness of themselves (like the characters in a motion picture)." (page 70) This is part of a 3+ page reflection by Morel. There is a lot here. One reflection: how many people have sacrificed their flesh-and-blood existential reality to make it as a star up there on the silver screen? What happens to the soul of the people in a city (Los Angeles, for example) when the city is taken over by an entire industry dedicated to producing films and shows populated by stars?

I recall a quote from the main character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when he goes into a roadside diner and can't get the waitress's attention because she is watching TV. He says, "I don't exist since I'm not on TV."
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