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the complete review - fiction
Jorge Luis Borges
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- Translated by Andrew Hurley
- Does not include those works of fiction written in collaboration with Adolfo Bioy Casares
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A- : excellent, though possibly overwhelming collection, not ideally presented
See our review for fuller assessment.
||Gene H. Bell-Villada
|The Jerusalem Post
|The LA Times
|The LA Times
|London Review of Books
|The New Criterion
|News & Observer
|The New Statesman
|The NY Rev. of Books
||J. M. Coetzee
|The NY Times
|The NY Times Book Rev.
|Rev. of Contemp. Fiction
|San Francisco Chronicle
|Virginia Quarterly Rev.
|Wall St. Journal
Borges acknowledged as a genius (though with some limitations), the stories modern classics.
Opinion about Hurley's handling of the texts varies greatly, though the Spanish-speakers tend to be considerably more critical.
Even opinion about the critical apparatus ranges across the whole spectrum.
See also the complete review Quarterly's survey of the critical responses to the Collected Fictions, Borges Under Review
From the Reviews:
- "One of our last true humanists, living through languages, books, and history, he condensed into unforgettable fictions the experience of intellect speaking to and about the world." - Marc Berley, Commentary
- "(T)he Collected Fictions stands as a noble, indeed monumental endeavor. (...) Still, I doubt that this volume will supplant earlier efforts, notably Labyrinths, which gathers both fiction and essays, is selective and manageable, and exists as a publishing event in its own right. But Hurley's Borges -- like Robert Fitzgerald's Greeks, or those Penguin Russians many of us were nourished on -- is here to stay." - Gene H. Bell-Villada, Commonweal
- "These stories reveal Borges at his most characteristic, using the most rigorous logic in the service of the most bizarre and illogical propositions. His self-conscious artfulness as a writer, his relentless examination through writing of the very idea of fictionality, has influenced Nabokov, Malraux, Foucault and many others." - The Economist
- "(I)t is the remarkable volume of stories superbly translated by Andrew Hurley that contains Borges's most enduring work. (...) Borges, whose literary credo was scattered through his stories (...), is a storyteller's storyteller, with a tremendous range of tried and true literary qualities, suspense and plot." - Shalom Freedman, The Jerusalem Post
- "Hurley's translations, while generally adequate, are not necessarily superior to those of his predecessors. There is, certainly, a benefit to having virtually all the fiction assembled in one volume, but this translation is not a work of genius." - Alfred Mac Adam, The Los Angeles Times
- "Translation is something like miking; the shadings of timbre are lost. Hurley is occasionally stiff and once in a while persnickety. (...) On the whole, though, he has done a prodigious job. It has the advantage of giving us Borges in a single English voice instead of a variety of them. (...) Reading these 100 stories at a go is inadvisable because after cracking 30 or 40 of Borges' distancing masks, one can lose the energy to distinguish those with life behind them from the empty ones. Not that the distancings aren't sometimes wonderful; none more so than in the celebrated "Borges and I," where distance is raised to a pitch of mournful affirmation. " - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times
- "Andrew Hurley is painstaking, and there is at times a blunt literalness about his versions; this makes his translations an extremely helpful guide to the originals. (...) The problems with Hurley’s translation arise not because he is a poor translator but rather because he appears not to have a good sense of English prose style, or to command such a style himself." - Eric Ormsby, The New Criterion
- "The stories, each its own intricate system of delight, give us the best purchase on the sensibility of the Argentine master. They display not only his utterly unique narrative gift -- his ability to make calculated raids on the realms of the impossible -- but also give free play to the leaping imagination of the poet and the lattice-making energies of the essayist." - Sven Birkerts, News & Observer
- "At last, the proudly monolingual anglophone has access to a single volume containing the prose fictions of one of the most original and inventive writers of any century. Well translated and well annotated, it is to be hoped that this publication will improve the eyesight of those who prefer not to see the failings of most contemporary fiction." - Henry Sheen, The New Statesman
- "(T)here is much to be said for an integral retranslation of the whole of Borges such as Viking has set in motion. Hurley's versions are generally excellent, marked by accuracy of word choice and a confident sense of narrative style. If there is one weakness to them, it is that Hurley's feel for the level of formality of English words is not always reliable." - J. M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books
- "This new collection of the complete imaginings of the Argentine writer, freshly translated from the Spanish by Andrew Hurley, is an event, and cause for celebration." - Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
- "If there is any difficulty with Collected Fictions, at least for me, it has to do with a sometimes jarring mixture of British and American usage, occasionally on the same page." - Mavis Gallant, The New York Times Book Review
- "Hurley has no ear for the rhythms of Borges's language. Funes el memorioso is for Hurley Funes, His Memory which is both inaccurate and ugly. Hombre de la Esquina Rosada becomes Man on Pink Corner, in inexplicable pidgin English. (...) A number of stories have been decently translated and are as readable as the best among the earlier versions, but mere readability is not good enough." - Alberto Manguel, The Observer
- "The publication of this book is the most significant literary event of 1998. (...) Although I am disappointed by some of the translations (didn't Borges choose his English translator?) I must compliment Andrew Hurley on his heroic task." - Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction
- "The cumulative delights gained from immersing oneself in the work of a great master far outweigh the pleasure of doling the pieces out sparingly, like bonbons. (...) Hurley eloquently justifies his linguistic decisions, citing 17 previous translators of Borges and referring to the master's own dictum that "every translation is a `version' . . . one in a never-ending series."" - William Hjortsberg, San Francisco Chronicle
- "Andrew Hurley has done very well, rather daringly changing some very familiar English titles in the interest of correctness, and it is agreeable to have the whole lot in one volume; the late Shakespeare's Memory stories haven't been translated before, and are among Borges' best." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator
- "Borges's masterpiece is the whole work, his life's work, read together, separate and complete, like his beloved Thousand and One Nights." - Jeanette Winterson, The Times
- "This wonderful volume gathers all of the Borges' enchanting stories in the highly readable rendering into English by Andrew Hurley." - Virginia Quarterly Review
- "This collection is a valuable contribution to the English-language bookshelf of world literature, long overdue. It is, however, marred by the inclusion of the short prose pieces from The Maker and In Praise of Darkness. Both books were conceived as collections intermingling poetry and prose, and to break them up frays, if not destroys, the author's intent." - Jamie James, Wall Street Journal
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
On the occasion of the centenary of his birth Viking/Penguin published three fat volumes of Borges' fiction, poetry, and non-fiction (collected, selected, and selected, respectively) -- an admirable attempt that still falls far short of the comprehensive presentation of Borges that so many clamour for.
At least the Collected Fictions are translated by a single hand -- Andrew Hurley's -- (unlike the Selected Poems, with its mishmash of approaches).
Unfortunately, it does not quite collect all the fiction, ignoring as it does Borges' collaborative efforts with Adolfo Bioy Casares -- an omission that can be accepted, but should be more fully explained (or at least made note of).
Almost all of Borges' fiction has long been available in English, but scattered over many volumes, translated by any number of writers (Hurley counts some seventeen).
The Collected Fiction finally places all the stories between the covers of a single book, a welcome though perhaps overwhelming trove.
Borges' finely hewn short stories are dense, and often learned and allusive.
They warrant closer reading and consideration, and to have so many of them side by side can detract from the individual pleasures almost each one affords.
Borges' stories often share certain ideas and narrative tricks.
A large number are tales within tales, the narrator relating how he found some lost story or piece of writing (generally only a fragment) and then quoting it verbatim, or recounting a tale he himself was told.
Borges is often preoccupied with, among other things: infinity, mirrors, doubles, fate, libraries, and books.
He imagines worlds and universes -- but he is also an Argentinian author, fascinated by the macho culture of that nation and describing scenes (often including knife fights) from it.
Among his fictions are a number of brilliant ideas.
There is Pierre Menard, the author who sets out to rewrite Don Quixote.
There is the infinite library of The Library of Babel, the infinite book of The Book of Sand, the visions of the universe in its entirety in The Aleph.
Shakespeare's Memory and Funes, His Memory brilliantly explore memory, and in Borges and I -- a single page -- the author examines identity and himself.
There is a great deal of cleverness in his inventions, but it is the presentation that makes these stories true marvels.
Often cloaked in some sort of scholarship, the stories are nevertheless accessible even if none of the references are familiar.
Borges also writes a number of stories that are more realistic (or are at least less intellectual in their foundations).
The South, in which a man goes to meet his fate, is among his strongest.
Other stories range from the political Deutsches Requiem to The Gospel according to Mark.
There is a staggering wealth of material here, with a considerable number of stories that could have a place in any anthology of the best stories written in the twentieth century.
Borges is a fascinating writer, and familiarity with his work is essential.
A master of his craft, almost all of his work is worth reading.
Presented all in one heap, as here, one may tire of some of his tricks -- but this is a volume to carefully dip into, savouring the individual pieces.
This collection -- like any and all collections of Borges' writings -- is highly recommended.
This collection is, of course, of particular interest, because it is the first (English) one where one translator has had a go at all of Borges' fiction (at least all of it where he claimed sole authorship).
Andrew Hurley counts at least seventeen previous translators into English of individual fictions, and even the early Ficciones (see our review) is the work of a number of translators.
There's a lot to be said for a single translating voice, and Hurley has done a solid job.
His work can hold its own against that of previous translators, and the advantage of having all the fictions collected here outweighs what linguistic weaknesses there are to his efforts.
Unfortunately, the notes to the text are relatively weak, and often more irritating that informative.
In presenting what is meant to be a "reader's edition" Hurley chooses only to "supply information that a Latin American (and especially Argentine or Uruguayan) reader would have".
As to the rest:
I have presumed the reader to possess more or less the range of general or world history or culture that JLB makes constant reference to, or to have access to such reference books and other sources as would supply any need there.
Brave assumptions in ignorant times !
Understandably, Hurley did not want to get bogged down in annotating Borges -- though we think it would have been splendid if he had done so.
Unfortunately, much of Borges' work refers to people, places, and books that are far beyond the ken of the holdings of even decent local libraries.
Most of these fictions can be appreciated without this knowledge, but it would have been a fine service to provide it.
In fact, Hurley does offer a number of explanations that have nothing to do with South America, but only early on.
He seems to have tired of the exercise and then basically abandoned the reader.
What information is provided in the notes is not offered in a straightforward or useful manner.
While it is of vague interest to learn about some of Hurley's choices in translating particular passages, words, and titles (such as the considerations behind titling the collection El hacedor as The Maker) he explains himself clumsily and can't separate points of significance with empty blather (so in particular his justification of retitling the story known as Funes the Memorious -- we can accept his decision, but not how he chooses to waste our time explaining it).
Hurley also manages to change the original Spanish -- as in Plaza del Once, which is actually Plaza Once, a name he figures readers will too easily be confused by.
Helpfully he does explain that this Once is "pronounced óhn-say, not wunce" -- showing how skewed his priorities are.
I.e. the reader finds almost no support here.
The reader will also not find a footnote explicating the De rerum naturae (on page 230 of the American hardcover edition), although it is tantalizingly marked with an asterisk (which elsewhere indicates that Hurley has a note explaining it).
Among the most dubious and irritating choices is Hurley's refusal (or inability) to translate practically any of the foreign quotes (of which there are quite a number), the meaning of which the casual reader is thus unlikely ever to learn.
Throughout the notes Hurley leans heavily on the Fishburn and Hughes volume, A Dictionary of Borges, a substitute that is surely preferable than this sorry mess tacked onto this volume.
Sad to say, this collection would probably have been better off simply without the notes.
Mention must also be made of two collections included here -- The Maker and In Praise of Darkness.
Both these collections contain, in their Spanish originals, prose and poetry.
Hurley acknowledges as much regarding The Maker, but fails to note this fact regarding In Praise of Darkness, and from both he translates only the prose.
These two collections are thus not presented in the way Borges intended, the poetry ripped free from them, considerably changing their impact.
To add to the bizarreness of the situation, much (but not all) of The Maker is also available in the Selected Poems, including many of the so-called prose pieces Hurley translates.
Naturally, the translations of these pieces in the Selected Poems are not Hurley's (Viking going out of its way to make sure these volumes will never be considered the definitive Borges) -- but at least the Spanish originals are included.
(Both In Praise of Darkness and The Maker have been translated elsewhere in their entirety, The Maker appearing under the title Dreamtigers.)
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Jorge Luis Borges:
Other books of interest under review:
- By Jorge Luis Borges:
- About Jorge Luis Borges:
- Featuring Jorge Luis Borges:
- Other books of interest:
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About the Author:
The great Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was awarded the 1961 Prix Formentor, as well as the Jerusalem Prize.
A talented poet and essayist he is best known for his short fiction.
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