Pick of the Geek – The Book of Sand

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Today, everything in art is about size: binge-watched TV, enormous novels, three-hour superhero movies, massive public sculptures. For the antidote to all this, you can’t do better than turn to Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian author whose stories are incredibly short, yet each of his four or five-page stories contain something every other author would struggle to reach in seven hundred pages. The Book of Sand was his personal favourite of his own work, completed when he was nearly blind, a situation similar to the one endured by the hero of his earlier story ‘The Secret Miracle’, who completes an entire novel in his head while blindfolded. He had already mapped out the infinite in work like ‘The Aleph’ and ‘The Library of Babel’, and he returns to the mysteries of a limitless universe in the title story, concerning a book too long for any reader to finish. What is different in The Book of Sand is a new reflectiveness. The pessimism of his earlier work is definitely still there – ‘A Weary Man’s Utopia’ is a devastating look to the future, and ‘The Congress’ spins a playful satire out of the impossibility of creating a truly representative democracy. But there is also real sadness and heart, even – in ‘Ulrikke’ – a completely unironic love story, something that no previous observer of Borges’s work would have expected. The new flavours of the book collide in the tremendous ‘The Night of the Gifts’, a tale of lost innocence and sudden, terrifying violence that spans the distance from ancient Greek philosophy to Western genre elements. Elsewhere, ‘The Other’ plays with autobiographical resonances in a tale of the elderly Borges meeting his younger self and trying to work out who is dreaming who, and ‘There Are More Things’ is an affectionate pastiche of a very different fictional contemplator of the infinite, HP Lovecraft. The Book of Sand is a collection often overlooked by critics in favour of Fictions and The Aleph, but for those who want an easy way into his body of work it might just be the perfect starting point. You get the full brain-stretching Borges experience, with a bit of sex and violence thrown in too.

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