Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by Luis Fernando Verissmo

This labyrinthine novella scared me. I wasn't really sure I wanted to read it. After reading Luis Fernando Verissmo's superb The Club of Angels, I wanted more. But this? Such a strange title. And what's with the Fernando Botero cover? I started reading it anyway.

And then I put it aside for over a year. It was just too strange, wasn't it? It sat on my shelf and I'd catch a glimpse of it and think ... shouldn't I finish it? It sat a while longer till the Novella Challenge gave me no excuse not to read it. What wonders I had avoided. A Borges fanboy, Vogelstein, tells the story about a murder at an Edgar Allen Poe academic conference in Buenos Aires to Jorge Luis Borges, who attends the conference and eventually makes a special contribution to this novella.

Vogelstein tells us, or rather, he tells Borges, "A conference on Edgar Allen Poe interrupted by a murder committed in a locked room, it was like a story by Poe himself!" Almost the entire novella is narrated to Borges. This locked room murder mystery also interweaves Borgian elements of arcane erudition and supernatural connections that any fan of Poe, Borges and even Lovecraft will revel in.

Locked room mysteries are troublesome. Usually the narrator can not be trusted. Something is always hinted at or barely glimpsed or quickly mentioned that holds the key to the locked room. If written properly, that something will be difficult to discern among the amazing array of facts and evidence. Red herrings and gold bugs and theories will crowd around us and prevent us from getting a good look at the room. Potential suspects will appear, but eventually dismissed. We shout eureka at the moment we think we've found the murderer only to suddenly realize that there is no way the Japanese professor could have gotten out of the locked room.

And so we read on until one of the characters clues us in and deciphers the mystery. In Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, the narrator abandons that role and hands the cipher to another character thereby plunging us deeper into the labyrinth. It took me over a year to sit down and finally read this novella; it will take much more than another year to get over this marvelous novella. I can't wait to read it again.


trish said...

Congratulations on finishing! You ROCK! And I think you get the award for reading six books I've never heard of. :-)

Chris said...

Thanks, Trish! I'll take that award.