Book Review: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

I picked up a copy of The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, at a sales conference for work of all places. I had never heard of Casares, but with a prologue from a name like Borges, I was certainly intrigued.

It turns out that Borges was actually Casares mentor (so close that the original cover of the book was actually drawn by Borges' sister), and that Casares works of magical realism were (and are) revered by other well-known South American authors, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is one of my favorite authors of all time. If you haven't heard me babble on about Marquez yet... maybe it's time for a Marquez post.

But I digress. The Invention of Morel is actually Casares' seventh book, but it was the one that he used to mark the beginning of his writing career. And upon reading this catchy NYRB edition, I can see why.

The story is told as the journal of an unnamed fugitive narrator, who has fled his homeland for reasons we are never entirely given. When he hears of a small island rumored to be the cause of a great disease, he ventures there to seek safety from his persecutors. Desperate, ailing, lonely and confused, he arrives on the island and seeks refuge in what is called "the museum." Resigned to his eternal solitude, he sets finding food, shelter, and the like... until strangers begin to appear at the museum and he flees.

I can't tell much more than this, except that after days of watching the strangers from a distance, he falls madly in love with one woman, Faustine, who ruins his resignation to solitude. Instead of accepting his fate, he now feels that he must rail against it, prove his innocence, and pursue a future with Faustine. For this poor bedraggled soul, it is pretty much all downhill from here, but not really in much the way you might expect.

Casares' writing, though translated, is crisp and clear, and the use of journals to unfold the plot does not hinder the narrator's tale at all. Quite the opposite, in fact: the desperation in the narrator's voice convinces the reader that he knows of his impending doom, just as the pages left in the novella, and the continued account of his experiences, proves that he has (thus far) lived on. Though short, the story is gripping and a bit haunting, leaving me puzzling out various bits and pieces well past the final page.

Bottom line: Any story that can resonate so strongly both on and off the page is a worthy read to me, and any writer endorsed by Borges and Marquez is extra-worthy. The Invention of Morel is not what one might expect, but these few pages pack a wealth of plot, character and philosophy, leaving us readers with something to ponder long after the story ends. But maybe that is what Morel wanted all along...


Note: The staff-recommend note beneath this book on the shelf at said sales conference referenced some role that the book plays in Lost. A bit of digging revealed that in addition to the novella appearing in various episodes of the series (see image to the side here), it may or may not be related to the secret of the Lost plot... I can't comment, though, as I haven't seen the series. Just a bit of interesting information!

1 comment

  1. Nice photo of Sawyer!

    Bill ;-)

    billsmith2003 (at) gmail (dot) com

    Hope you'll check out my book giveaway:


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