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Jorge Luis Borges – Ficciones

Original title: Ficciones
Swedish title: Fiktioner
English title: Fictions
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Translator: Sun Axelsson, Marina Torres, Johan Laserna och Ingegerd Wiking
Year: 1944

Few authors have had as favourable an introduction as Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian writer known to me through a number of recommendations, all seemingly describing an author who should suit me perfectly. Picking up the slim volume (roughly 200 pages), I was thus quite convinced that I would like Fictions (which is the English titles of a book in Spanish I read in Swedish). Alas, after reading the first few stories, I was far from convinced, but the anthology slowly gathered momentum and I ended up quite liking the book.

As reviews go, that’s a bit too short, I think, so let me expand what I’ve already said. Fictions is a collection of short stories, all with surrealist or meta fictive components. As is said in the foreword, Borges is an author for other authors, examining the words that make up stories, as well as the stories themselves. But he does more than that. He also displays an untamed imagination with a style that can perhaps only be attained by a trained librarian, author and surrealist, involving libraries, literature and labyrinths in many different forms. Each short story feels unique and that’s quite high praise to start with.

So, if these qualities are so prominent, what made me hesitate and why isn’t the rating much higher? I feel there are two reasons. First, I don’t enjoy the language, which might be the fault of the translators, but I’m not so sure. It feels wordy and sometimes focuses too long on points that don’t interest me. Second, I think the main concepts presented in these stories are excellent and they make the book worth reading regardless of all other qualities, but I don’t like the indirect method of presenting them to the reader in that they are often descriptions of stories (because “Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness”). This is fine for some stories, but the part which isn’t specifically about the story itself becomes boring very quickly (discussions about the author, the history of the story and such things).

To sum things up, Fictions is well worth reading, but it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Some stories are truly ingenious (such as The Circular Ruins, The Babylon Lottery, The Library of Babel, The Garden of Forking Paths, The Form of the Sword and The South) and would probably have merited around four and a half snail on average. The others (mostly those exclusively dealing with meta fiction) are often dull and boring once the concept, which is intriguing, is revealed. On average, then, three and a half out of five seems appropriate for my first, somewhat ambigious, encounter with Jorge Luis borges.

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  1. Xhakhal’s avatar

    I started reading this book (haven’t finished – a friend of mine who resembles Svante a lot in both looks, attitude and taste borrowed it from me earlier this summer) with only one or two recommendations from people I have little in common with and no high expectations. To be honest, I thought he would be about as boring as Isabel Allende and about as overestimated as Maya Angelou – but I was wrong. From what I’ve read, he’s both imaginative, unique and has a very good grip of his own style (‘style’ though, seems all too important in this book to go all the way), enough to use it effectively as a writing tool, writing with it rather than in it.

    But although I was surprised by how much -better- it was than I had first thought, I wouldn’t say it was much better than you say it is, bearing in mind that I haven’t read it fully yet. My opinion may change on finishing it. Sometimes it feels a bit like the DMC games – style is too important to allow real immersion :/

    It’s invitingly short though, and even if I can’t know if the translation is -good-, at least the translator knows Swedish better than the one translating the copy of the House of Spirits I read, who mixed up ‘kall’ and ‘förkyld’ on the very first page.

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  2. Xhakhal’s avatar

    kylig* and förkyld* i meant of course.

    Reply

  3. Olle Linge’s avatar

    So we approached it from different angles, then? Perhaps I would have liked it better if I would’ve read it without such high expectations, I don’t know. I don’t know about Isabel Allende, but this is a thousand times better than Maya Angelou.

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  4. Xhakhal’s avatar

    I’ve read your review on ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ and I enjoyed it immensely. You said almost everything I wanted to say about the book, and you did it in a much more civilised manner than I would have used ;)

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  5. Martin Ackerfors’s avatar

    Nu råkar jag ju gilla Fiktioner skarpt men jag kan ändå förstå din slutsats. Kanske är jag mer intresserad av det Borges gör bra än vad du är och då kan det mycket väl vara en anledning till varför våra åsikter skiljer sig. Jag gillar ju dels det novellartade, dels är jag väldigt intresserad av metafiktion. Det är nog en hjälp.

    För övrigt måste jag läsa något av Isabel Allende så att jag kan se om jag kan lägga till henne till samlingen grymma spanska författare tillsammans med Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges och Bernardo Atxaga (visserligen baskier). :)

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  6. Olle Linge’s avatar

    Jag tror att metafiktionen är det som skiljer oss mest. Jag tycker idéerna är bra, men är inte vidare intresserad av genomförandet. Sedan tycker du nog mycket riktigt att det bästa är bättre än vad jag tycker att det är, men det påverkar nog inte betyget så mycket.

    Jag känner på mig att Allende inte skriver magisk realism, för övrigt. :)

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    1. Martin Ackerfors’s avatar

      Angående Allende känner Wikipedia på sig att hon skriver magisk realism. Andarnas hus står i bokhyllan och är väl den som är närmast att bli läst. :)

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      1. Olle Linge’s avatar

        My bad, jag tänkte på någon helt annan. :) Jag har faktiskt läst Andarnas hus, men det var så länge sedan att jag knappast kan säga något om den, annat än kanske vad den handlar om.

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      2. Svante’s avatar

        Nå, jag skulle ju ge Fiktioner åtminstone fem och en halv, men jag förstår dina reservationer. Själv gillar jag även saker som långa listor över fiktiva böcker (eller när tre sidor helt plötsligt är utdrag ur en katalog över verktyg och spik, som i Georges Perecs Livet en bruksanvisning) men alla kanske inte riktigt håller med …

        X: Alla som liknar mig så mycket borde ha läst Borges för tio år sedan, minst. ;)

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