Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quite Possibly the Best Book Review Ever Written

This is from Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions (p. 184), in the section entitled "Book Reviews and Notes". I present it here, unabridged; the ellipsis at the end of the second paragraph is in the original.
Richard Hull, Excellent Intentions

One of the projects that keeps me company, that will in some way justify me before God, and that I do not think I will accomplish (for the pleasure is in foreseeing it, not in bringing it to term) is a detective novel that would be somewhat heterodox. (This last is important, for the detective genre, like all genres, lives on the continual and delicate infraction of its rules.)

I conceived it one night, one wasted night in 1935 or 1934, upon leaving a cafĂ© in the Barrio Once. These meager circumstantial facts will have to suffice for the reader; I have forgotten the others, forgotten them to the point where I don't know whether I invented some of them. Here was my plan: to plot a detective novel of the current sort, with an indecipherable murder in the first pages, a long discussion in the middle, and a solution at the end. Then, almost in the last line, to add an ambiguous phrase—for example: “and everyone thought the meeting of the man and woman had been by chance”—that would indicate, or raise the suspicion, that the solution was false. The perplexed reader would go through the pertinent chapters again, and devise his own solution, the correct one. The reader of this imaginary book would be sharper than the detective. . .

Richard Hull has written an extremely pleasant book. His prose is able, his characters convincing, his irony civilized. His solution, however, is so unsurprising that I cannot free myself from the suspicion that this quite real book, published in London, is the one I imagined in Balvanera, three or four years ago. In which case, Excellent Intentions hides a secret plot. Ah me, or ah Richard Hull! I can’t find that secret plot anywhere.

-- Translated by Eliot Weinberger
I came across this in the dead-tree version of this book -- which you can buy here, if you're so inclined -- and was determined to post it for the edification and delight of my readers; but I am grateful that I found the text on this web site, saving me the trouble of typing it in myself.

I could swear I've seen that middle paragraph quoted somewhere, but for the moment I can't recall where. (A small spark of memory makes me want to say that it was in something by Umberto Eco, but that could be completely wrong...)

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