The Invention of Morel

Written by  //  October 9, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  3 Comments

The first time this slender marvel of a novel was pushed at me, I was told it stood as the inspiration for Lost.Since I have gone about telling anyone who will listen that Lost is the best thing that will ever happen to tv (along with Arrested Development and Community perhaps), this stoked my interest. It helped that this “novel of ideas” clocked in at 103 pages – you don’t want your dense reading to drag on too long. It was with these preset notions that I picked up Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1940 novel, The Invention of Morel.

I got some of what I bargained for, to be sure. Morel most certainly has elements which Lost would put to such atmospheric use, starting with its conception of a seemingly fantastical island to the mysterious experiment that it stands as a base for. It also satisfies the ideas criterion – the exposition heavy last third of the book throws dizzying ruminations on immortality and the nature of love at the reader.

Where it surprised me though, was on the count of it being, on the one hand, a furiously compelling ride, and on the other, a complex, often devastating, love story.

We start with a escaped fugitive who’s found refuge in a remote island in the south seas. There exist concrete traces on the island of recent occupation: a museum, a chapel, even a swimming pool. He enters into a solitary routine, which is broken one day with the arrival of a group of people on the island – men and women who engage in dance and drink and merry chatter – whom he observes from a distance. One of these women captures his fancy, and he starts attempting to make contact with her. But nothing is what it seems ….

For any piece of science fiction to truly work (and this is a science fiction novel through and through), it needs to resonate in ways both political and emotional. That is to say, the technological aspect, the imagined creation, needs to function on some level as a commentary on some aspect of the world we inhabit. Of course, it’s positively difficult for any such work to not, even unintentionally manage this task, but that’s where the second level of resonance needs to take place. There needs to be weight and consequence, a sense of the characters involved, of their importance, and of our connection to them.

The Invention of Morel is a triumph in how it succeeds at both those goals – without giving too much away, I’ll say that the invention in question mirrors ideas about cinema, and in extension, ideas about how we live our very lives. What does it mean for us that we cannot understand anything outside of time and space? That we will only know what someone else has already thought or felt, or the possible transpositions of those thoughts or feelings? And what kind of mortality accrues to an image that lingers on even as the subject dies and decays?

Tied into those ideas is that aforementioned love story. It’s a love that may or may not be unrequited, depending on how you approach the questions above. It’s a love that either destroys a perfectly lucid man, or salvages a madman and inserts him into a vision of immortality. Again, that depends on what you think about the ideas Casares places before you. Me, I’ll take the easy route of ambivalence for now. Given my own issues with mortality, Morel presents an intoxicating alternative, a suggestion that the approach of looking at the body as the vessel for eternal life is a flawed one. I’d like to go with Casares’ vision to the logical end-point – but there’s a certain very physical reluctance holding me back.

Tied into those ideas is that aforementioned love story. It’s a love that may or may not be unrequited, depending on how you approach the questions above. It’s a love that either destroys a perfectly lucid man, or salvages a madman and inserts him into a vision of immortality. Again, that depends on what you think about the ideas Casares places before you. Me, I’ll take the easy route of ambivalence for now. Given my own issues with mortality, Morel presents an intoxicating alternative, a suggestion that the approach of looking at the body as the vessel for eternal life is a flawed one. I’d like to go with Casares’ vision to the logical end-point – but there’s a certain very physical reluctance holding me back.

3 Comments on "The Invention of Morel"

  1. Shivprasad November 23, 2011 at 10:41 am ·

    Thanks for the review, Danish. Jorge Luis Borges spoke very highly of Casares. Casares is also one of the characters in his famous short story Tlon, Uqbar Orbis Tertius ( which explores themes of continuity of identity through time). For long, I thought that Borges was sui generis in his weaving of metaphysical and philosophical issues into fiction but I gather from your review that Invention of Morel also promises something in that genre. Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Shivprasad January 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm ·

    Danish,

    Read it over the Christmas break and was absolutely blown away! A great thought experiment on existence immortality and love as you rightly described it. Just a thought which the commentators (including Borges) seem to have missed out. Faustine is clearly named after Geothe’s Faust who gets into a pact with the devil to surrender his consciousness (soul) in return for earthly pleasures. What do you think?

  3. Danish Sheikh January 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm ·

    hey – the Faustian allusion seems to make a lot of sense! let me read up a bit more and get back to this.

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