[This post is part of a series on literary works that deserve a wider audience.]
This is the first in a new series of posts I’ve been thinking about starting for a long time: Rare B sides. The whole point of these posts will be to share literary works that I think deserve a wider audience. They will usually—but not always—be works of fiction.
Think of it as the literary equivalent of listening to those rare B sides of your favorite musicians that are so hard to find.
I’ve only recently been sucked into the world of Argentine and Latin American literature. The gateway for me, as it is no doubt for many others, was Jose Luis Borges. I still love his stuff, especially his poetry. And I’m very, very sparing with my love of poets.
I’ve been slowly branching out from Borges and one of the first things I discovered was The Invention of Morel. There are three compelling things about the work: the mood it casts, the slowly rising dramatic tension and the novelty of its central idea.
The mood (or tone?) is right there from the very first sentence.
Hoy, en esta isla ha occurido un milagro. [Today, on this island, a miracle occurred…]
The mystery deepens quickly and the mood builds in the next few sentences.
…Summer came early. I moved my bed out by the swimming pool, but then, because it was impossible to sleep, I stayed in the water a long time. The heat was so intense that after I had been out of the pool for only two or three minutes I was already bathed in perspiration again. As day was breaking, I awoke to the sound of a phonograph…
Beyond the marsh where the narrator lives there is a chapel, a museum and a swimming pool. The feel of the novel is deftly captured by this clip of a movie based on the book:
Soon, the narrator discovers other people on the island, including a “gypsy” woman who wears a scarf.
As I watched her, I could hear the ocean with its sounds of movement and fatigue close at hand, as if it had moved to my side.
As he unwinds the mystery of the island and its inhabitants, we’re sucked into his world by trying to guess the exact nature of the place. That brings in the plot, the slowly building tension. Will the narrator discover the true nature of the island and what will his reaction be? It kept me reading and reading until almost the very end.
Finally, there is the novelty of the idea. But what can I say about that without giving it all away? Even after it is revealed, it’s interesting to see how the narrator decides to react.
On a recent trip down to Buenos Aires, I knew I had to secure my own Spanish edition of the book. At the amazing, museum-like Ateneo, I found a beautiful copy with a beautiful cover.
It has a chronology, hand-written notes by the author and photos. Why is it that foreign editions are more desirable objects than American books? I plan to read it some day, but have to improve my Spanish first.
That’s about all for now, have to RUN. I hope that setup gets you interested in the book. It’s a great, atmospheric read that deserves more readers.
What would Rare B Sides be without an actual rare B side? Here’s a great one from the Verve, So Sister.