In Review

Book review: Borges and Me by Jay Parini

Parini’s ‘novelised memoir’ is ‘joyous’ and ‘sharply written’

Fifty years ago, when he was a “draft-dodging doctoral student at St Andrews”, the American writer Jay Parini found himself undertaking an improbable road trip, said Oliver Balch in The Observer. The great Argentinian novelist Jorge Luis Borges was on a visit to the UK, and had stopped off in Scotland to stay with the poet Alastair Reid. But Reid was then “called away at short notice”, so Parini “bravely stepped into his shoes” – and proceeded to chaperone the virtually blind writer on a “week-long jaunt through the Scottish hinterland”. In this “joyous, sharply written” memoir, he recounts their adventures. Disaster was never far away: on Loch Ness, their rowing boat overturned; in the Cairngorms, Borges slipped into a ditch. At one b&b, the pair were forced to share a “narrow double bed”: Borges, in his yellow satin pyjamas, smelt of sour sweat and “unfamiliar lotions”, and visited the toilet incessantly. By using the trip to animate Borges’ “literary spirit” – and reflect on the innocence of his own twentysomething self – Parini has created a work of “fantastical delight”. 

How much of it, though, is really true, asked Abhrajyoti Chakraborty in The Guardian. Borges’ widow, María Kodama, has questioned the book’s veracity, and Parini himself calls it a “novelised memoir”. This wouldn’t much matter if it was written with “vitality”, but Parini’s writing is often sloppy, and his portrait of Borges rarely rises above caricature (he’s either the “madman artist type”, or the “erratic, cane-wielding uncle”). Parini’s own “backstory” is quite compelling – he offers powerful descriptions of friends and family, and of his ambivalence about his dodging of the draft – but as an act of literary homage, Borges and Me feels disappointingly thin.

Canongate 320pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99

Borges and Me by Jay Parini
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

Recommended

Recipe of the week: panzanella
Panzanella
On the menu

Recipe of the week: panzanella

Will Ukraine join the EU?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron after a press conference in Kyiv
Getting to grips with . . .

Will Ukraine join the EU?

Best properties: Scottish homes in glorious settings
Oldany Lodge and Farmhouse, Lochinver Lairg
The wish list

Best properties: Scottish homes in glorious settings

Book review - Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps by Seirian Sumner
A wasp
In Review

Book review - Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps by Seirian Sumner

Popular articles

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande film review
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
In Review

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande film review

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami
A tsunami in 2011 in Japan
Fact file

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami

The Week Footer Banner