I’ve started and restarted writing this post several times now and I just can’t express what I want to say eloquently so I’m going to throw back-story, hooks, analogies and whatever other devices I overuse out the window and get to the point: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges is good. Really good.
|There's something intangibly wonderful |
about well worn books.
Borges was an Argentinean
writer active in the 20th century and best known, at least in the United States, for his short stories. His first collection to be translated out of its original Spanish and into English was Ficciones.
Going into Ficciones I expected the pieces to be rather similar to many other short stories I’ve read: something about a person struggling to overcome an obstacle and then in the end the protagonist has a revelation or grows in some minute way. Though echoes of this type of structure exist in several of Ficciones stories, individual human actions are not the main concern of this collection. Borges’ gaze (Figuratively, of course. Borges was blind later in life) is far broader with his stories questioning both reality and perception.
The unfortunate reality, no matter how Borges might try to twist it, is his stories are far from accessible. Ficciones though under 200 pages is neither a quick nor an easy read. Much of this difficulty comes from the ideas Borges plays with in the stories. A real world created from fictional encyclopedias, the implications of rewriting a book word for word, the downsides of infinite memory, parallel universes: these aren’t easy concepts grasp and especially not in the many faceted way in which Borges examines them. Subject matter, however, isn’t the only element making these stories difficult to understand. It’s clear from the collection that Borges is a very intelligent, well-read and scholarly man. While these are all admirable qualities, they often work to the reader’s disadvantage. Many of the selections are written in the manner of a highbrow examination of a fictional author’s work with numerous obscure references, proper nouns and needlessly difficult words thrown in for good measure. The translator might be at fault for some of these extra layers of difficulty but it’s doubtless Borges was responsible for quite a bit of the complexity. The writing style does succeed at making the story deeper and more intricate, but whether any of Borges already dense stories actually needed this, is a matter of personal opinion.
I found Ficciones to be one of the most fascinating and perspective altering books I’ve ever read. Each story forces the reader to think and revaluate realities that are often left unquestioned. I liked the first half of the collection slightly better than the second but the whole book is filled with gems. The stories that stood out to me are: “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” “The Circular Ruins,” “Funes the Memorious,” “Three Versions of Judas,” and “The South.” If you’re looking for a good but challenging read I heartily recommend Borges. For those of you unsure if you would enjoy his writings, many of his stories are available online for free and are well worth a try.