The Book Of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges, 1975
The magic trick:
Using an intro in which he pontificates about the story’s theme to set up the narrative
In a lot of ways this really could be considered the quintessential Borges story. It has a lot of the same style, the same themes and ideas that we’ve seen before in his earlier work.
This was written toward the end of his life, so it’s later Borges. And I guess if you want to take a more negative spin on it, you could call it Borges by the numbers. But that really isn’t accurate, because that connotes that it’s somehow second-rate. It really isn’t. This is an excellent story.
He takes the opening sentence to really kind of step back and just tell you what the story’s about. In this case, he’s kind of pondering the nature of infinity and what that means in relation to how we live. So he kind of pontificates on that subject before the narrative even begins.
And in a sense that can be kind of annoying, honestly. It’s almost as if he’s not trusting the reader to figure out what the story’s about; maybe he’s not even trusting his own narrative to show what the story is about. So he feels compelled to tell you about that theme. It almost seems like a cheat by the author. And I think in a lesser author’s hands, it would be maybe a little condescending. But here, with Borges, it’s just wonderful. Maybe a little indulgent, but whatever.
The subject is so interesting and his ideas are so original that you’re certainly not bored. It’s incredibly educational and very interesting, and it sets up the story perfectly. It’s really kind of just the perfect table-setter. It does not spoil the narrative, but instead really sets it up perfectly so that you’re already thinking about these big ideas. Now you can explore the narrative and see how it illustrates these ideas. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.
Lines consist of an infinite number of points; planes an infinite number of lines; volumes an infinite number of planes, hypervolumes an infinite number of volumes… No, this, this more geometrico, is definitely not the best way to begin my tale. Affirming a fantastic tale’s truth is now a story-telling convention; mine, though, is true.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.