Jul 30, 2007

Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borge’s Fictions is a collection of short stories, many of which defy the definition of just what a story is. Some are written in the guise of seemingly non-fictional essays, essays about infinite libraries with all the books that ever were, are and could be, about non-existent countries, about imaginary words, about authors who are as fictional as their work.

My interest in Borges comes from the fact that he is one of those “respectable” authors who make wide use of fantasy elements in their work. He is Argentinean, and yet his use of the imaginary is very different from that of the authors that ones associates with the South American Magic Realist tradition. His work is very rational – he is concerned with possibilities, with ideas, with philosophy, with literature, with the impact of the imagination in men’s lives. Unlike in the work of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, here one doesn’t feel “landscape as a shaping force”. Argentina itself makes few appearances in these pages. He often moves in the realm of abstract ideas, ideas that could, one tends to believe, be thought of regardless of place.

In “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, the first story in this collection, the narrator comes across an encyclopaedia entry about a mysterious and previously unheard of country, Uqbar. This discovery will lead him to the possibility of a whole world being imagined, and thus created.

In “The Circular Ruins”, a similar theme is explored: a wizard dreams up a man, and thus shapes him into existence.

In “The Library of Babel”, we follow the search for the Book of all Books, in an endless library that contains all possible books.

“Death and the Compass” is a detective story about the search for the criminal behind three ritualistic murders.

Like I said, Borges likes to toy with abstract ideas and philosophical concepts. That and his somewhat dense prose would have made the book hard to read if it wasn’t for the fact that the stories are mostly very short. The pace is always just right, and he finished them before they run the risk of becoming tedious.

However, the book does demand concentration, and that the reader be in the mood to entertain the ideas that are presented in it. I wouldn’t say this is something everyone will like, but I do think it’s worth a try.


  1. Nymeth, I read another collection by Borges years ago - I think it was Labyrinths - and I remember feeling the same way you did with this one. I'm not a huge short story fan, but these were a nice selection, and they didn't go on and on once the point was made. You definitely have to be in the right mood for them, but if you are, I think they hit the spot. Thanks for the review!

  2. This anthology certainly sounds interesting. I may have to look into it further. Thanks for the review, Nymeth. You always read some very interesting books. :-)

  3. What a nice review on Borges, Nymeth. It's been years and years since I read this book (and his others), but I remember the stories you described, and I remember feeling the same way--it was intense reading, but a very interesting look at the world. I need to reread his work, especially because of my renewed ties to Argentina! I remember how proud the nation was (and still is, I'm sure) of him.

  4. this seems fascinating!

    i especially like the way he seems to take these things so seriously, and not just as flights of fantasy, if you know what i mean.

    thanks for the review!

  5. You know I haven't heard of this author before. The collection sounds interesting, I will try and find a copy in a shop to have a look at before deciding to get it.

  6. Darla: I have "Labyrinths" on my wishlist - it's good to know that it's also good!

    Literary Feline: Thank you :) So do you!

    Robin: They really must be, and with every reason!

    Jean Pierre: Yeah, he seems to use the stories to discuss philosophical ideas, and at the same time he manages to avoid becoming tedious.

    Rhinoa: I do recommend taking a look first, because I wouldn't say he's an author everyone will like.

  7. This sounds great. All of these stories seem like things that I would find interesting to read. Borges is going to have to go on my list of things to read. I especially love the idea of dreaming up a world to go with a name.

    Thanks for the review!


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