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Jorge Luis Borges

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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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