Today it’s the anniversary of the birth of Jorge Luis Borges. He’d have been 112 today, which is pretty old, even for a writer.
‘Jorge who?’ you ask. ‘And why did he spell his name funny? What’s wrong with George?’ Well, stay calm and I’ll tell you…
Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favourite writers. He became one of my favourite writers when I discovered that he never wrote anything longer than a short story. I was a teenager and here was a man with an attention span similar to mine, I thought. And ooh look, a squirrel!
His stories are wonderful and blow my mind in all kinds of good ways. There are characters who meet themselves from the future but don’t notice; there are priceless objects that are invisible and drive you mad when you drop them and can’t find them again; there are infinite books in which you can never find the same page twice; there are more magical moments in each short story than you find in most full length novels.
Once I was even inspired to write a short story about three brothers called George, Luis and Rob (which is ‘Bor’ backwards) and of course their surname was ‘Ges’. George, Luis and Rob Ges. It was a weird story. You know what? I’ve probably got it here on my computer somewhere, hidden in an old file. I’m going to dig it out. How about I show you the first few paragraphs? It’s going to be a bit rubbish because I wrote it when I was 16, but it is what it is and you might find it interesting…
I’ll paste it at the bottom of this post.
Oh, also: Novermber 7th to 13th is National Short Story week. You should all read Borges to celebrate. And I’m sure a couple of people I know have short stories being published soon… wait… yes! Ali Sparkes! And… who else? Um… me! But more about that another time. Here’s my 16 year-old self’s attempt at a homage to Borges:
In the first year of my publishing business I spent most of my coffee stained days and nights hunched over my desk in the smallest room in the smallest office building that you can imagine. The company name was printed up on the door and when a train hit the track outside the window I thought I was a private detective. The impression was reinforced by each one of my clients – or potential clients. They slipped into the room with cheap mystery and presented me with a problem, except that I was not supposed to solve the problem, I was being asked to publish it. All I seemed to get were trashy novels and romantic dirges. I knew what fine literature was meant to look like and I knew that even with the most skilful editing in the world, the words I was reading were never going to amount to more than a graveyard of clichés.
The first time I saw any of the Ges brothers – it was George I met first – I had just been woken by a train from a disturbing dream about dancing rodents. The din of the tracks somehow accentuated George Ges’ skeletal appearance. He was a man who had obviously seen better times. He introduced himself with a voice that sounded like it had crawled out of prison. He looked awful: a skeleton with skin wrapped round it. He featherly placed in front of me his manuscript – a hundred or so scuffed and trodden grey pages torn from all different kinds of notebook. He never referred to it as a manuscript, though; he always talked about it as his ‘fish’. I could never work out why and I didn’t ask him, but for all the time I knew him, he would always talk about ‘my fish’ and ask what we were going to do with his ‘fish’. Maybe I heard him wrong, but it certainly sounded like ‘fish’. I promised to read what he had written and told him to come back the same time the next day.
The book was amazing. This work which had somehow landed up on my desk defied all conventions of writing and literature of the day. The language and story-telling were as beautiful as Shakespeare, as harsh as Kafka and as inspired as Borges. I turned page after page and only paused when I couldn’t make out certain words due to mud stains or passages where splashes of rain had run all the words together. I had at last seen genius and held it in my hands. I read all through the rest of the day and into the evening, unable to look up from the paper before me, when suddenly it stopped. The train of words which had held me stiff in my chair for so many hours hit the end of a page in the middle of a sentence and did not continue. Had the pages run out? Had I dropped or mislaid the rest of the book? Was this just to tease me? To provoke my interest and raise the price I was prepared to pay? As I turned to begin reading the words again from the start, a shadow appeared in the doorway.
When Louis Ges walked in I thought George Ges had returned early, dressed as a priest…