The OF Blog: Borges Month: Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (1942; with Adolfo Bioy Casares)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Borges Month: Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (1942; with Adolfo Bioy Casares)

As famous as he may have been for his metaphysical-tinged puzzle stories, Jorge Luis Borges' fictions often contained elements of policiales, or detective/police procedural stories.  It is no surprise that Borges' first fiction to be translated into English in the late 1940s appeared first in a mystery magazine.  It perhaps should not be a surprise that Borges' first all-fiction collection would be a series of six policiales that he co-wrote with his good friend and fellow writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares.

These six stories do not resemble the structures that Borges would often employ in his latter solo efforts.  There is, for example, much more dialogue than one might expect to find.  This is likely due to the influence of Bioy Casares on the stories, but is at least as much due to the tropes of this literary genre. 

But there are some key differences, ones that made this collection intriguing, at least for the first couple of stories.  In the first story, "Palabra liminar," the basic format of these six stories is established.  Isidro Parodi, a one-time barber who is now serving 21 years for a dubious murder, has developed a reputation for being able to listen to the particulars of the case presented to him by reporters or police officers and being able to solve those cases without ever leaving his jail cell.

The format generally has a reporter or officer, or later on, some involved in the tale, relating at length what occurs throughout.  Often there is a mysterious, quasi-metaphysical element that has to be explained.  After the vast majority of each tale is devoted to these explanations, Parodi then asks a few questions, gets a few answers, and then proceeds to explain how such an event came to be.

Due to the nature of these stories, it is nigh impossible for me to present short extracts without giving away some crucial plot information.  Therefore, it is difficult to illustrate how after the first couple of stories, the set-ups become more elaborate but also more laborious to read.  As a fan of both authors, it was a mild disappointment to see that their abilities as writers did not mesh as well as I would have liked.  Bioy Casares is better than Borges at creating dialogue, but at times the dialogue seemed to run head-on into the metaphysical mystery elements.  These two disparate elements just did not work very well together and it became difficult to keep track of some of the twists and turns, especially in the latter stories. 

Therefore, it really is little surprise that Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi has been relegated to the category of a minor work for both authors.  The initial premise was interesting, but with the repetitive narrative structure compounded by the clash of two of its core elements, the stories, especially the latter three, just are not as enjoyable to read as are the fictions that either author wrote individually.  This book is only for the hard-core completists of either author's fiction.

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