Tonawanda News

November 25, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Casares 'The Invention of Morel' a precursor for other tales

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In 1940, Adolfo Bioy Casares bucked the trends of his time with his highly influential work, “The Invention of Morel.” 

Until then, the mainstream literary audience had become infatuated with pushing literature past the constraints of structure and plot. Groundbreaking work in fiction was being published feverishly through the 1920s and ‘30s, including classics like Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” Jame’s Joyce’s “Ulysses” and William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”

Critics and scholars increasingly focused on such avant garde styles of writing, especially the stream of consciousness technique, in which the author freely allows the thoughts and reactions of the narrator to spill onto the page, simulating a continuous flow of ideas.

The traditional, plot-based form of storytelling was all but dead by 1940, save the pulps, a magazine-like publishing format most “sophisticated” readers found to hold less value than the paper it was printed on. 

That is, until Casares published “The Invention of Morel.”

Perhaps citing “The Invention of Morel” as the buoy that saved traditional plot-based storytelling may sound extreme, but its importance is tough to over-emphasize. Casares’ peer and lifelong friend, famed author Jorge Luis Borges, declared “The Invention of Morel” a masterpiece of plotting, and The New York Times called it “a masterfully paced and intellectually daring plot.” Just like that, Casares had breathed life back into the use of an engaging plot as the foundation for a piece of fiction.

“The Invention of Morel” is told from the point of view of a fugitive, who after a long and grueling escape across the ocean finds solace on a deserted island. The fugitive begins to keep a diary when a group of tourists appear on the island, detailing his attempts to remain hidden in fear of being returned to the authorities. It is through his diary that the reader learns of what happens on the island.

After spying on the tourists, it isn’t long before the fugitive is torn between his desire to remain a free man, and the need to proclaim his love to one of the tourists he watches from afar. 

Dubbed a “sci-fi” piece by many, “The Invention of Morel” delves much deeper into its themes than a traditional science fiction work. Casares investigates the emotions of love and the fear of being alone, the human desire for power and control over their surroundings, and the implications of chasing after immortality — and that’s just for starters.

“The Invention of Morel” clocks in at just over 100 pages long, but manages to pack in a number of twists within its tight confines. It is relatively easy to finish in one sitting, and the desire to discover more about the mysterious tourists alongside the fugitive is enough to hook you in for the long haul. While “Morel” is a translation from its original Spanish version, translator Ruth L. C. Simms does a spot-on job of keeping the story’s flow intact, making for a seamless English read. 

Casares had written six books prior to the publication of “Morel,” but it was this, his seventh effort, that rocketed the author into the global literary conversation. His influence has continued to spread ever since. 

In 1993, the immensely popular computer game “Myst” was released, and would hold the record for best selling PC game until “The Sims” took the reigns in 2002. Many fans of the game believe “Morel” to be a large influence on the title. The popular TV series “Lost,” detailing the struggle of survivors of a plane crash on a bizarre island, also credits “The Invention of Morel” as an influence, going as far as showing one of the characters reading the book on-screen. 

Readers looking for an engrossing story with plenty of fun twists and turns should find “The Invention of Morel” a more than worthy read. We can all give thanks to the work, and its author, for resurrecting a staple of fiction that many — at least for a time — found to be a less than essential aspect of a good book. Boy, were they wrong.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.

• WHAT: "The Invention of Morel" • BY: Adolfo Bioy Casares • GRADE: A