07 August 2005

Jorge Luis Borges, P.I.

Thanks to the Rake, I found out about a mysterious little book called Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by Luis Fernando Verissimo. I was immediately intrigued (and the Botero cover helped). The premise alone is worth the price of admission:
Vogelstein is a loner who has always lived among books. Suddenly, fate grabs hold of his insignificant life and carries him off to Buenos Aires, to a conference on Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of the modern detective story. There Vogelstein meets his idol, Jorge Luis Borges, and for reasons that a mere passion for literature cannot explain, he finds himself at the center of a murder investigation that involves arcane demons, the mysteries of the Kaballah, the possible destruction of the world, and the Elizabethan magus John Dee's theory of the "Eternal Orangutan," which, given all the time in the world, would end up writing all the known books in the cosmos. Verissimo's small masterpiece is at once a literary tour de force and a brilliant mystery novel.
I was lucky enough to find a copy at Borders when I was up north on vacation. At just over 130 pages, it was easy to read in one sitting, which I promptly did.

I wasn't disappointed. The specific narrative structure of the misremembered symbols made by the position of the body in front of the hotel room mirror serves as an engaging form in which to contemplate subsequent implications. Academic pride, idol worship (of the fanboy variety), and mysticism figure prominently. The labrynthine paths of thought taken by Borges and Vogelstein function to both enlighten and distract at once. Most obviously, the sheer wish-fulfillment nature of the story is quite dazzling to behold. (For what could one possibly have to say to Jorge Luis Borges?)

But what I wound up with was a finely-crafted mystery: the clues were there all along.

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