This is, in my opinion at least, the best way to sample a spot of Borges – his writing is so rich that you only need a small amount in one go. I’ve read The Library of Babel before, but the rest were new to me. I wasn’t massively taken with the title story, The Mirror of Ink, in which a sorcerer shows a tyrant the truth about himself, but there’s something about the sheer scale of Borges’ imagination in The Library of Babel that I can’t help but be wowed by.
‘The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low rail. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below – one after another, endlessly.’
The Library becomes a space for an examination of our quest for knowledge and power, both a history and a dystopian warning.
The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero manages to be both taut in its construction and sprawling in its focus on storytelling and myth-making. The Blue Tigers is more conventional in tone but still slips in and out of a dreamlike scenario. Of the longer stories, The Lottery in Babylon was probably the most interesting, I felt. It explores the way a lottery has become an integral part of this Babylonian civilisation, to the extent that it is taken up the Company and used by the people as a means of policing their own behaviour to a terrifying degree. There’s something about the way a society will use chance self-destructively – one of my favourite stories is Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery – which makes for good literature.
Finally, it was one of the shorter pieces, The Witness, which asks a very simple question and which has left the strongest mark – ‘what will die with me the day I die?’ This is a sobering thought. Borges is undoubtedly a genius, but I now feel the need to look at cats on the internet.