Category: Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Seventh Circle by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

I copy and paste the following text due to its potential interest to readers of this blog.

borges-bioyThe police genre is one of the few literary inventions of our time. Distraction often confuses it with a less rigorous and less lucid genre: that of adventure. In this, however, there is no other unit than the attribution of the various adventures to the same protagonist or other order than that advised by the convenience of graduating the reader’s emotions. (Remember the Seven Journeys of Sinbad; remember the novels that delighted Don Quixote.) Instead, police fictions require severe construction. Everything in them must prophesy the outcome; but those multiple and continuous prophecies have to be, like those of the ancient oracles, secret; they should only be understood in the light of the final revelation. The writer is thus committed to a double feat: the solution of the problem posed in the initial chapters must be necessary, but it must also be astonishing. To complicate the mystery, it is forbidden to interleave useless characters, accumulate accomplices or skimp indispensable data; also, purely mechanical solutions are prohibited: electromagnets, which invalidate the fundamentals of locksmithing; the fast false beards, which disrupt the principle of identity; the machinery of slices and piolas, whose labyrinthine explanation exceeds the possibilities of attention; Nor should the police novelist enrich toxicology with scholarly and imaginary poisons, or endow his characters with unusual acrobatic, thaumaturgical or ballistic hypnotic faculties.

In police novels the unity of action is essential; also it is convenient that the arguments do not expand in time and space. Treat yourself, then, in spite of certain romantic additions, of an essentially classical genre. Even death is punctual in police novels; although it is never absent, although it is usually the center and the occasion of the intrigue, it is not used for morbid delegations, except in certain examples of the American school, which represent another regression towards the adventure novel.

The tradition of the police genre is very noble: Hawthorne prefigured it in some tale of 1837; the illustrious poet Edgar Allan Poe created it in 1841; it has been cultivated by Wilkie Collins, Dickens, R.L. Stevenson, Kipling, Eça de Queiroz, Arnold Bennett and Apollinaire; recently, Chesterton, Phillpotts, Innes, Nicholas Blake. It is possible to suspect that if some critics are obstinate in denying the police genre the corresponding hierarchy, this is due to the lack of prestige of boredom.

Paradoxically, the most relentless detractors of police novels tend to be those who enjoy reading the most. This is due, perhaps, to an unconfessed Puritan prejudice: to consider that a purely pleasant act cannot be meritorious.

So powerful is the charm that derives from this literary genre that there is hardly any police work that does not participate in it, to some extent. It could also be said that there is no reader who is completely insensitive to that virtue. Everyone admires the first police novel they read; This admiration, sometimes astonishing or unfair, constitutes an involuntary homage to the genre.

Unintentionally, the writers who have analyzed the police novel hurt her, because by insisting on the mechanism of the argument – in whom, in how and why. They have fostered, or tolerated, the mistaken belief that these novels have no other value than that of their argument and that it exhausts them. Those who profess that belief seem to forget that the police novel is, above all, a novel, that is to say a work in which the psychology of the characters, the effectiveness of the dialogue, the power of the descriptions and the style of the narrator have decisive value. A proof of the error of judging the police novels by the single argument is manifested in the frequent equation of essentially dissimilar works; Thus, the mystery of the yellow room and the equivocal form are often cited as two versions of the same problem – that of the murder committed in a closed room -: this assimilation, justifiable from a point of view, ignores the vast differences between Gaston Leroux and Chesterton.

Of all the forms of the novel, the police is the one that demands writers greater rigor: there is no phrase or idle detail in it; everything, in its course, tends at last, to delay it without stopping it, to insinuate it without giving it away, to hide it without excluding it.

From this delicate direction of the emotions and thoughts of the reader, one might perhaps compare this genre with oratory and theater. However, we do not think presumptuous to remember that the task of the police novelist is more arduous, since it is not aimed at a passive and easily suggestible crowd, but rather at isolated readers (always more insightful than the writer, according to Stevenson’s observation).

There was a time, now happily surpassed, in which diagrams, plans and schedules joined their generous efforts to exasperate the reader. From the mechanical and topographic it has been passed, now, to the human. The works of Eden Phillipotts, Nicholas Blake, Robert Player, Richard Hull, Patrick Quentin and Vera Caspary adjoin the psychological analysis novel; in those of Anton Chekhov, Graham Greene, Margaret Miller, Michael Innes, Cora Jarret and Lynn Brock, a tragic vehemence prevails; those of Anthony Gilbert renew the successful tradition of Dickens; those of James M. Cain are distinguished by an unbearable hardness; those of E.C.R. Lorac, Milward Kennedy and Clifford Witting continue and enrich the Orthodox school; those of John Dickson Carr, whose protagonist, Dr. Fell, combines the people of Dr. Johnson and Chesterton, play wisely with melodramatic terrors; those of H. F. Heard and those of Leo Perutz, with fantastic terrors.

We believe, finally, that the police novel exerts a beneficial influence on all branches of literature; advocates the rights of construction, of lucidity; of order, of measure.

Museum fragment. Unpublished texts by Borges and Bioy Casares. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2002 (Source: La Bòbila de Hospitalet Library, Barcelona https://www.revistarambla.com/el-septimo-circulo-monografico/)

Last picture of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares together. It was taken  by Julio Giustozza at Alberto Casares bookshop on 27 November 1985.

El Séptimo Círculo por Jorge Luis Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares

bonomiFollowing my previous post here and given its possible interest for the readers of this blog, the following text (in Spanish) was the one that Borges and Bioy Casares jointly wrote in 1945, to inaugurate the Argentinian crime fiction collection “El Séptimo Círculo” published by Emecé Buenos Aires. Its front covers were undertaken by the Italian-Argentine illustrator José Bonomi.

El Séptimo Círculo por Jorge Luis Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares

El género policial es una de las pocas invenciones literarias de nuestro tiempo. La distracción suele confundirlo con un género menos riguroso y menos lúcido: el de aventuras. En éste, sin embargo, no hay otra unidad que la atribución de las diversas peripecias a un mismo protagonista ni otro orden que el aconsejado por la conveniencia de graduar las emociones del lector. (Recordemos los Siete Viajes de Simbad; recordemos las novelas que deleitaban a Don Quijote.) En cambio las ficciones policiales requieren una construcción severa. Todo en ellas debe profetizar el desenlace; pero esas múltiples y continuas profecías tienen que ser, como las de los antiguos oráculos, secretas; sólo deben comprenderse a la luz de la revelación final. El escritor se compromete, así, a una doble proeza: la solución del problema planteado en los capítulos iniciales debe ser necesaria, pero también debe ser asombrosa. Para complicar el misterio, le está vedado intercalar personajes inútiles, acumular cómplices o escamotear datos indispensables; también, le están prohibidas las soluciones puramente mecánicas: los electroimanes, que invalidan los fundamentos de la cerrajería; las veloces barbas postizas, que desbaratan el principio de identidad; las maquinarias de rodajas y piolas ,cuya explicación laberíntica excede las posibilidades de la atención; tampoco el novelista policial debe enriquecer la toxicología con venenos eruditos e imaginarios, ni dotar a sus personajes de inusitadas facultades hipnóticas acrobáticas, taumatúrgicas o balísticas.

En las novelas policiales la unidad de acción es imprescindible; asimismo conviene que los argumentos no se dilaten en el tiempo y en el espacio. Trátase, pues, a despecho de ciertas adiciones románticas, de un género esencialmente clásico. Hasta la muerte es púdica en las novelas policiales; aunque nunca está ausente, aunque suele ser el centro y la ocasión de la intriga, no se la aprovecha para delectaciones morbosas, salvo en ciertos ejemplos de la escuela norteamericana, que representan otra regresión hacia la novela de aventuras.

La tradición del género policial es nobilísima: Hawthorne lo prefiguró en algún cuento de1837; el ilustre poeta Edgar Allan Poe lo creó en 1841; lo han cultivado Wilkie Collins, Dickens, R.L. Stevenson, Kipling, Eça de Queiroz, Arnold Bennett y Apollinaire; recientemente, Chesterton, Phillpotts, Innes, Nicholas Blake. Cabe sospechar que si algunos críticos se obstinan en negar al género policial la jerarquía que le corresponde, ello se debe a que le falta el prestigio del tedio.

Paradójicamente, los detractores más implacables de las novelas policiales suelen ser aquellas personas que más se deleitan en su lectura. Ello se debe, quizá, a un inconfesado prejuicio puritano: considerar que un acto puramente agradable no puede ser meritorio.

Tan poderoso es el encanto que dimana de este género literario que apenas si hay obra policial que no participe de él, en cierta medida. También podría afirmarse que no hay lector que sea del todo insensible a esa virtud. Todos admiran la primera novela policial que leyeron; esta admiración, a veces pasmosa o injusta, constituye un involuntario homenaje al género.

Sin proponérselo, los tratadistas que han analizado la novela policial la perjudicaron, pues al insistir en el mecanismo del argumento -en el quién, en el cómo y en el porqué-. Han fomentado, o tolerado, la creencia errónea de que estas novelas no tienen otro valor que el de su argumento y que éste las agota. Quienes profesan esa creencia parecen olvidar que la novela policial es, ante todo, una novela, es decir una obra en la que tienen decisivo valor la psicología de los personajes, la eficacia del diálogo, el poder de las descripciones y el estilo de narrador. Una prueba del error de juzgar las novelas policiales por el solo argumento se manifiesta en la frecuente equiparación de obras esencialmente disímiles; así, El misterio del cuarto amarillo y La forma equívoca suelen citarse como dos versiones de un mismo problema -el del asesinato cometido en un cuarto cerrado-: esta asimilación, justificable desde un punto de vista, desconoce las vastas diferencias que hay entre Gaston Leroux y Chesterton.

De todas las formas de la novela, la policial es la que exige a los escritores mayor rigor: en ella no hay frase ni detalle ocioso; todo, en su decurso, propende al fin, para demorarlo sin detenerlo, para insinuarlo sin delatarlo, para ocultarlo sin excluirlo.

Por esta delicada dirección de las emociones y de los pensamientos del lector, cabría tal vez comparar este género con la oratoria y con el teatro. Sin embargo, no creemos presuntuoso recordar que la tarea del novelista policial es más ardua, ya que no se dirige a una muchedumbre pasiva y fácilmente sugestionable, sino a lectores aislados (siempre más perspicaces que el escritor, según la observación de Stevenson).

Hubo una época, ya felizmente superada, en que diagramas, planos y horarios unían sus generosos esfuerzos para exasperar al lector. De lo mecánico y topográfico se ha pasado, ahora, a lo humano. Las obras de Eden Phillipotts, de Nicholas Blake, de Robert Player, de Richard Hull, de Patrick Quentin y de Vera Caspary lindan con la novela de análisis psicológico; en las de Anton Chéjov, Graham Greene, Margaret Miller, Michael Innes, Cora Jarret y Lynn Brock prima una vehemencia trágica; las de Anthony Gilbert renuevan la venturosa tradición de Dickens; las de James M. Cain se distinguen por una insobornable dureza; las de E.C.R. Lorac, Milward Kennedy y Clifford Witting continúan y enriquecen la escuela ortodoxa; las de John Dickson Carr, cuyo protagonista, el doctor Fell, combina las personas del doctor Johnson y de Chesterton, juegan sabiamente con los terrores melodramáticos; las de H. F. Heard y las de Leo Perutz, con los terrores fantásticos.

Creemos, finalmente, que la novela policial ejerce una influencia benéfica en todas las ramas de la literatura; aboga por los derechos de la construcción, de la lucidez; del orden, de la medida.

Fragmento de Museo. Textos inéditos, de Borges y Bioy Casares. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2002 (Source: Biblioteca la Bòbila de Hospitalet, Barcelona)

Borges and Bioy Casares actively participated on the selection of the first 120 titles. In the mid-sixties, the editor Carlos V. Frías took over the collection. In the last years, José Bonomi’s illustrations disappeared and thus was erased the spirit of the series. Read more here (in Spanish)

The First 120 Titles:

1945

1. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, La bestia debe morir [The Beast Must Die (1938)]. Traducción de Juan Rodolfo Wilcock. En la tapa de la primera impresión de este volumen (cuyo colofón la fecha el 22 de febrero de 1945) se lee «Nicolas», corregido «Nicholas» a partir de la segunda.
2. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, Los anteojos negros [The Black Spectacles (1939)]. Se usa la edición inglesa (London: Hamish Hamilton). La norteamericana, publicada por Harper, se titula The Problem of the Green Capsule.
3. INNES, MICHAEL, La torre y la muerte [Lament for a Maker (1938)].
4. GILBERT, ANTHONY, Una larga sombra [The Long Shadow (1932)].
5. CAIN, JAMES, Pacto de sangre [Double Indemnity (1943)].
6. KENNEDY, MILWARD, El asesino de sueño [The Murderer of Sleep (1932)].
7. CASPARY, VERA, Laura (1943).
8. KENNEDY, MILWARD, La muerte glacial [Corpse in Cold Storage (1934)]. Trad. de Juan Rodolfo Wilcock.
9. CHEJOV, ANTÓN, Extraña confesión [Novosti dnia (1884)]. Trad. de la versión francesa [Un Drame à la chasse (1936), por Denis Roche] y prólogo de Manuel Peyrou.
10. HULL, RICHARD, Mi propio asesino [My Own Murderer (1940)]. Trad. de Estela Canto.
11. CAIN, JAMES, El cartero llama dos veces [The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)].
12. PHILLPOTTS, EDEN, El Señor Digweed y el señor Lumb [Mr. Digweed and Mr. Lumb (1933)]. Trad. de Leonor Acevedo de Borges.
13. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, Los toneles de la muerte [There’s Trouble Brewing (1937)].
14. AMORIM, ENRIQUE, El asesino desvelado (1945).
15. GREENE, GRAHAM, El ministerio del miedo [The Ministry of Fear (1943)].
16. WITTING, CLIFFORD, Asesinato en pleno verano [Midsummer Murder (1937)].

1946

17. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para actores [Puzzle for Players (1938)].
18. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, El crimen de las figuras de cera [The Waxworks Murder (1932)]. Trad. de Estela Canto. Se usa la edición inglesa (London: Hamish Hamilton). La norteamericana, publicada por Harper, se titula The Corpse in the Waxworks.
19. GILBERT, ANTHONY, La gente muere despacio [The Case of the Tea-Cosy’s Aunt (1942)].
20. CAIN, JAMES, El estafador [The Embezzler (1943)].
21. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para tontos [A Puzzle for Fools (1936)].
22. LORAC, E.C.R., La sombra del sacristán [Black Beadle (1939)].
23. COLLINS, W. WILKIE, La piedra lunar [The Moonstone (1868)]. 2 vv.
24. JARRETT, CORA, La noche sobre el agua [Night Over Fitch’s Pond (1933)]. Trad. de Haydée Lange.
25. HEARD, GERALD, Predilección por la miel [A Taste for Honey (1941)].
26. INNES, MICHAEL, Los otros y el rector [Death at the President’s Lodging (1936)].
27. PERUTZ, LEO, El maestro del juicio final [Der Meister des Jüngsten Tages (1923)].
28. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, Cuestión de pruebas [A Question of Proof (1935)].
29. BROCK, LYNN, En acecho [The Stoat (1940)].
30. COLLINS, W. WILKIE, La dama de blanco [The Woman in White (1860)]. 2 vv.
31. BIOY CASARES, ADOLFO & OCAMPO, SILVINA, Los que aman, odian.
32. GILBERT, ANTHONY, La trampa [The Mouse Who Wouldn’t Play Ball (1943)].
33. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, Hasta que la muerte nos separe [Till Death do us Part (1944)].
34. INNES, MICHAEL, ¡Hamlet, venganza! [Hamlet, Revenge! (1937)].

1947

35. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, ¡Oh, envoltura de la muerte! [Thou Shell of Death (1936)].
36. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, La sede de la soberbia [The Seat of the Scornful (1942)]. Se usa la edición inglesa (London: Hamish Hamilton). La norteamericana, publicada por Harper, se titula Death Turns the Tables.
37. PHILLPOTTS, EDEN, Eran siete [They Were Seven (1944)].
38. LORAC, E.C.R., Jaque mate al asesino [Checkmate to Murder (1944)].
39. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para divorciadas [Puzzle for Wantoms (1945)].
40. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, El hombre hueco [The Hollow Man (1935)]. Se usa la edición inglesa (London: Hamish Hamilton). La norteamericana, publicada por Harper, se titula The Three Coffins.
41. BROCK, LYNN, La larga busca de monsieur Lamousset [The Two of Diamonds (1926)].
42. PHILLPOTTS, EDEN, Los rojos Redmayne [The Red Redmaynes (1922)].
43. KEVERNE, RICHARD, El hombre del sombrero rojo [The Man in the Red Hat (1930)].
44. POSTGATE, RAYMOND, Alguien en la puerta [Somebody at the Door (1943)].

1948

45. GILBERT, ANTHONY, La campana de la muerte [The Bell of Death (1939)].
46. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, El abominable hombre de nieve [The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941)].
47. PLAYER, ROBERT, El ingenioso señor Stone [The Ingenious Mr. Stone (1945)].
48. PEYROU, MANUEL, El estruendo de las rosas (1948).
49. POSTGATE, RAYMOND, Veredicto de doce [Veredict of Twelve (1940)].
50. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para demonios [Puzzle for Fiends (1946)].

1949

51. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para fantoches [Puzzle for Puppets (1944)].
52. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, El ocho de espadas [The Eight of Swords (1934)].
53. WOODTHORPE, R.C., Una bala para el señor Thorold [The Public School Murder (1932)].
54. HEARD, GERALD, Respuesta pagada [Reply Paid (1942)].
55. INNES, MICHAEL, El peso de la prueba [The Weight of the Evidence (1943)].
56. HEARD, GERALD, Asesinato por reflexión [Murder by Reflection (1942)].
57. GILBERT, ANTHONY, ¡No abras esa puerta! [Don’t Open the Door! (1945)].
58. HILTON, JAMES, ¿Fue un crimen? [Was it Murder? (1933)]. Se usa la edición norteamericana (New York: Harper, 1933). La inglesa (London: Benn, 1931) se titula Murder at School.
59. BERKELEY, ANTHONY, El caso de los bombones envenenados [The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929)].
60. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, El que susurra [He Who Whispers (1946)].
61. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Enigma para peregrinos [Puzzle for Pilgrims (1947)].
62. BERKELEY, ANTHONY, El dueño de la muerte [Trial and Error (1937)].
63. QUENTIN, PATRICK, Corriendo hacia la muerte [Run to Death (1948)].

1950

64. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, Las cuatro armas falsas [The Four False Weapons (1937)].
65. GILBERT, ANTHONY, Levante usted la tapa [Lift Up the Lid (1948)].
66. CURTIS, PETER, Marcha fúnebre en tres claves [Dead March in three Keys (1940)].
67. GILBERT, ANTHONY, Muerte en el otro cuarto [Death in the Wrong Room (1947)].
68. FOWLER, SYDNEY, Crimen en la buhardilla [The Attic Murder (1946)].
69. VARIOS, El almirante flotante [The Floating Admiral (1931)].
70. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, El barbero ciego [The Blind Barber (1934)].
71. HENDERSON, DONALD, Adiós al crimen [Goodbye to Murder (1946)].
72. GREENE, GRAHAM, El tercer hombre. El ídolo caído [The Third Man and The Fallen Idol (1950)]. Trad. de Silvina Bullrich.
73. LUSTGARTEN, EDGAR, Una infortunada más [One More Unfortunate (1947)]. Se usa la edición norteamericana (New York: Scribner). La inglesa (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode) se titula A Case to Answer.
74. DICKSON, CARTER, Mis mujeres muertas [My Late Wives (1946)]. Trad. de Estela Canto.

1951

75. WITTING, CLIFFORD, Medida para la muerte [Measure for Murder (1941)]. Trad. de Estela Canto.
76. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, La cabeza del viajero [Head of a Traveller (1949)].
77. BURT, MICHAEL, El caso de las trompetas celestiales [The Case of the Angels ́ Trumpets (1947)].
78. DICKENS, CHARLES, El misterio de Edwin Drood [The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)]. Trad. de Dora de Alvear.
79. HARE, CYRIL, Huésped para la muerte [Tenant for Death (1937)]. Trad. de José Bianco.
80. PHILLPOTTS, EDEN, Una voz en la oscuridad [A Voice from the Dark (1925)].
81. CUMBERLAND, MARTEN, La punta del cuchillo [The Knife will Fall (1943)].
82. VALBECK, MICHAEL, Caídos en el infierno [Headlong from Heaven (1947)]. Trad. de Haydée Lange.
83. STRONG, L.A.G.: Todo se derrumba [All Fall Down (1944)].
84. OURSLER, WILL, Legajo Florence White [Folio on Florence White (1942)].
85. WALPOLE, HUGH, En la plaza oscura [Above the Dark Circus (1931)]. Trad. de Cecilia Ingenieros.

1952

86. HULL, RICHARD, Prueba de nervios [A Matter of Nerves (1950)].
87. QUENTIN, PATRICK, El buscador [The Follower (1950)].
88. CAREY, BERNICE, El hombre que eludió el castigo [The Man Who Got Away With it (1950)]. Trad. de Juan Rodolfo Wilcock.
89. EASTMAN, ELIZABETH, El ratón de los ojos rojos [The Mouse With Red Eyes (1948)]. Trad. de José Bianco.
90. MILLAR, MARGARET, Pagarás con maldad [Do Evil in Return (1950)].
91. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, Minuto para el crimen [Minute for Murder (1947)].
92. LUSTGARTEN, EDGAR, Veredictos discutidos [Verdict in Dispute (1949)].
93. BERROW, NORMAN, Peligro en la noche [Don’t go out after dark (1950)]. Trad. de Rodolfo J. Walsh.
94. CARR, JOHN DICKSON, Los suicidios constantes [The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941)].
95. BURT, MICHAEL, El caso de la joven alocada [The Case of the Fast Young Lady (1942)].
96. CROMMELYNCK, FERNAND, ¿Es usted el asesino? [Monsieur Larose, est-il l’assassin? (1950)]. Trad. de José Bianco.
97. DES CARS, GUY, El solitario [La Brute (1951)].
98. BURT, MICHAEL, El caso del jesuita risueño [The Case of the Laughing Jesuit (1948)].

1953

99. CASPARY, VERA, Bedelia (1945).
100. WALSH, THOMAS, Pesadilla en Manhattan [Nightmare in Manhattan (1950)].
101. HULL, RICHARD, El asesinato de mi tía [The Murder of my Aunt (1934)].
102. RICE GUINNES, ALEX [ALEJANDRO RUIZ GUIÑAZÚ], Bajo el signo del odio (1953).
103. TEY, JOSEPHINE, Brat Farrar (1949).
104. DICKSON, CARTER, La ventana de Judas [The Judas Window (1938)].
105. MILLAR, MARGARET, Las rejas de hierro [The Iron Gates (1945)].
106. WELLS, ANNA MARY, Miedo a la muerte [Fear of Death (1951)]. Trad. de Haydée Lange.
107. DICKSON, CARTER, Muerte en cinco cajas [Death in Five Boxes (1938)].
108. CASPARY, VERA, Más extraño que la verdad [Stranger Than Truth (1947)].
109. FORESTER, C.S., Cuenta pendiente [Payment deferred (1951)].
110. DICKSON, CARTER, La estatua de la viuda [Night at the Mocking Widow (1950)].

1954

111. TREE, GREGORY, Una mortaja para la abuela [A Shroud for Grandmama (1951)].
112. TEY, JOSEPHINE, Arenas que cantan [The Singing Sands (1952)].
113. MILLAR, MARGARET, Muerte en el estanque [Rose’s Last Summer (1952)].
114. VERY, PIERRE, Los Goupi [Goupi mains Rouges (1949)].
115. MASTERMAN, J. C., Tragedia en Oxford [An Oxford Tragedy (1954)]. Trad. de Carlos Peralta.
116. PARKER, ROBERT, Pasaporte para el peligro [Passport to Peril (1951)].
117. LINKLATER, ERIC, El señor Byculla [Mr. Byculla (1950)].
118. BLAKE, NICHOLAS, El hueco fatal [The Dreadful Hollow (1954)].
119. ELLIN, STANLEY, El crimen de la calle Nicholas [The Key to Nicholas Street (1952)].
120. PHILLPOTTS, EDEN, El cuarto gris [The Grey Room (1921)].

Forgotten Books: Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, by Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy Casares

In 1942, during WWII, Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi, (translated in 1981 as Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi), written by H. Bustos Domecq, appeared in Argentine bookshops. Thus, Don Isidro Parodi, the first amateur sleuth in Argentine literature, was born. This book was followed by Dos fantasías memorables, 1946 (Two noteworthy fantasies), Crónicas de Bustos Domecq, 1967, (translated in 1976 as Chronicles of Bustos Domecq), and Nuevos Cuentos de Bustos Domecq, 1977.

Under the name of Honorio Bustos Domecq we find two of the best known and more influential Argentine writers, Jorge Luis Borges Acevedo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, however we can’t consider H. Bustos Domecq a pen name. In essence Borges and Bioy Casares invented a new author with a complete biography whose features are very different from the sum of them two. Some scholars have called him “Biorges” and he is considered, in his own right, a writer who exerted a great influence on later novelists. One other aspect which is worth noting about this book is the uses of the local slang, something that, unfortunately, is lost in translation. Besides, over time some local references have been lost. 

Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi is a parody as suggested by its title. Isidro Parodi, a barber by trade, is serving 21 years for a murder he did not commit. However he has developed a reputation for being able to solve the cases that are brought to him just listening to the story, without leaving his cell. The six problems narrated in this short book are: The Twelve Figures of the World, The Nights of Goliadkin, The God of the Bulls, Free Will and the Commendatore, Tadeo Limardo’s Victim, and Tai An’s Long Search. They are a delightful read.

In Fantastic Fiction we can read: In an unusual twist on the traditional armchair detective, don Isidro, jailbird and former barbershop owner, unravels each mystery brought to his cell by a host of flamboyant characters, parodies of different elements of Argentinean society. Among these, an easily duped journalist, an actor who gives a new meaning to egotism, and members of a Buenos Aires literary circle, each more absurd than the next, are some of the clientele who stop by the prison to see if don Isidro is “in” for a consult. As with most of Borges’ fiction, there are ample literary references; these add to the unrelenting and cutting humour wielded against Argentinean intellectuals, but the characters speak for themselves. Some of the plots are as farfetched as the characters, including a diamond stolen from Russian royalty and a precious stone lifted from a Chinese temple; others, such as “Free Will and the Commendatore,” underscore philosophical problems. The stories are playful even when they are serious; H. Bustos Domecq does not miss an opportunity to poke fun at the characters, and the authors, Borges and (Bioy) Casares, take every chance to make much of Bustos Domecq, their illustrious pseudonym. The forward and afterward are not to be missed. (The book cover is taken from isfdb).

(The parenthesis are mine and I’ve corrected Isidoro for Isidro. Please note that in Spain, and most Spanish-speaking countries, the first surname was traditionally the father’s first surname, and the second the mother’s first surname. This order may now be reversed, under gender equality law).

A short review by Evelyn C. Leeper can be found HERE.

Two extensive articles in Spanish are: Borges y el policial “trasnochador” en Las Noches de Goliadkin por Pablo Unda Henríquez, and Honorio Bustos Domecq: personaje y autor a la vez. Su vida, obra y creación.

To my knowledge the Spanish edition is out of print. (Alianza Editorial, 1998 1ª edición. 184 pages. ISBN: 9788420633909).

Friday Forgotten Books is hosted by Patti Abbott at Pattinase. A visit to her blog is worth your while.