There comes a moment while reading The Invention of Morel when you finally begin to understand what’s happening. That final resolution of the impending mystery, somewhere two-thirds into the work, is rightly posited as an exemplar of Adolfo Bioy Casares’ craft and depth of imagination. Prior to that resolution, there are perplexing appearances, (arguably) drab utterances, and a hopelessly messy (or messed up?) narrator.
The Invention of Morel is akin to a story within a story. There is the central plot with all the characters- Morel, Faustine, the narrator. And encircling it is the reiteration of everything by the narrator in his diary. The novella doesn’t have the form or the structure of an ordinary epistolary literature, but whatever we read is undeniably refracted through the mind of the narrator, despite his meticulous recordings in his diary:
“When I am less agitated I shall find a way to get away from here. But in the meantime, writing down what happened helps me to organize my thoughts. And if I am to die this diary will leave a record of the aging I suffered.”
The story begins when the narrator finds himself on an island that he believes to be uninhabited by anyone but him. Yet one night, he is awakened from his sleep by some noise and is startled to witness that the grassy hillside of the island is crowded with people who are merrily dancing and singing. For numerous days, he avoids being seen by them. However, there is one person he is always desperate to see and to be seen by- Faustine:
“She watches the sunset every afternoon; from my hiding place I watch her. Yesterday, and again today, I discovered that my nights and days wait for this hour… if she looked at me for a moment, spoke to me only once, I would derive from those simple acts the sort of stimulus a man obtains… from the woman he loves.”
The Invention of Morel, to me, is so much about unrequited love. The narrator tries everything to win Faustine’s affection. He creates an elaborate garden for her, gathers the courage to speak to her. She, however, behaves as if he is invisible. When he speaks to her, she stays silent, as if she had not…heard him. When he presents the garden, she overlooks it as if it doesn’t…exist.
There is something particularly arresting about a person you want who doesn’t want you back and Casares understands this, is almost sympathetic to it. In any hopeless quest for love, the most hurtful bits aren’t the other person’s rejection of you, but their sheer indifference. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference. If to truly love someone is to convince yourself that they are not expendable, then who wants to come to terms with one’s own expendability? So, the lover herself becomes an obstacle to tacit acceptance and even makes the indifference about herself. The narrator, therefore, does just that:
“Now I derive consolation from thinking about her disapproval. And I wonder whether it is justified. What is there to hope for after this stupid mistake I have made? But since I can still recognize my own limitations, perhaps she will excuse me. Of course, I was at fault for having created the garden in the first place.”
The conundrum of Faustine’s indifference and narrator’s invisibility is ultimately settled. Faustine isn’t really a person, but only a synchronization of all of her senses, recorded by Morel (who, too, loves her) over a course of a week and being played on an endless loop. Each moment actually follows the trajectory set when the eternal week was originally recorded. In Eleven Ways to Love, Dhrubo Jyoti writes that it is love’s great desire to not be commonplace. And there is nothing more commonplace than unrequited love. In order to give perpetual reality to his romantic desire for Faustine, Morel records his pleasant conversations with her for one week, and replays it incessantly. Both of them are dead by the time the narrator first sees them (unknown to him earlier, he actually saw the recording). However, the conversation in which Morel is pursuing Faustine has been made eternal. Morel’s love becomes tragic, but his invention saves it from being commonplace.
Some love stories are also about imagining oneself into the narrative of another’s life. The narrator doesn’t fall short of that. He goes ahead and places himself in the original recordings, pretending to speak to Faustine at certain moments, walking by her side, in order to give the appearance that they are involved, just like two lovers would be. Yet he preserves his love twice- once by placing himself in the recording, and then again by containing it within the pages of his thin diary.
The narrator, too, subsequently dies, but since the choice was between testimony and death, as Dhrubo would have said, he certainly went screaming.
Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel
Dhrubo Jyoti, ‘A Letter to my Lover(s)’ in Eleven Ways to Love