La Intrusa

Among my books there is a slim paperback called Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. Published by Jupiter Books, an imprint of John Calder Ltd, in London in 1965, it is edited with an introduction by Anthony Kerrigan who made most, though not all, of the translations. The book is in two parts: The Garden of Forking Paths, 8 stories (1941); and Artifices, 9 stories (1944). There's a short prologue by Borges, from the Spanish edition, to each part ... I took this book down from the shelves the other day because I could not remember ever having bought or owned it: my Borges was, I am sure, a Penguin, unaccountably lost somewhere in the labyrinth of the past. Yet this volume has my name on the fly leaf, in a version of writing I recognise as the hand I used in the 1980s, next to the pencilled price of the book: 95 cents, which must be from at least a decade earlier. Of course I sat down to read it because, though Borges is constantly evoked by myself and others, I have not actually read him for a long time ... I had forgotten how rich his writing is, how funny, how beautiful and strange: take the first words of The Circular Ruins: No-one saw him disembark in the unanimous night ... how could you not fall immediately under the spell of such an opening? Yesterday afternoon this book, with its black and white photograph of Borges in profile before a dim shelf of other books on the cover, was lying on the table under the window in the sitting room. Something about the way the light fell across it disclosed hieroglyphic marks impressed into the cardboard. I picked it up and held it slantwise to the declining sun: there, written horizontally across it, in printed capitals, was my mother's name and address at the house where the family lived when I left home early in 1970; and next to it the words: BOOK POST. I recognise the printing as my own, and the era of its use, because I also last week found a box of letters I had sent to my mother and read one, written in late 1970: it was addressed to her in the same style as the impression on this book. Clearly, I bought and sent it to her in that year. Quite when and how it returned to me, I do not know, but that must have been the time I inscribed it with my name ... it would not surprise me if she gave it back, the work could not have been to her taste and she may not even have read more than a few pages. And anyway I would not have given it to her because I thought she would like it, rather, the gift would have been a reflection of my own taste, a proclamation, even a polemic. It is even possible that I took it myself from her shelves on some unremembered later occasion ... I have two other Borges books, a series of lectures he gave over seven consecutive nights in Buenos Aires in 1977, called Seven Nights, and Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges by Richard Burgin, a young American who spoke to the Master at Harvard during his tenure there in 1967-68. Opening the second book at random this morning I came across this passage: ... I wrote it about a year ago and I dedicated it to my mother. She thought the story was a very unpleasant one. She thought it awful. But when it came to the end there was a moment when one of the characters had to say something, then my mother found the words ...

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