‘The Garden of Forked Paths’, by Jorge Luis Borges

What to say about Borges that hasn’t been said? Well, for me, his utter wonderfulness, and the reason I couldn’t imagine an anthology of short stories without him in it, is not so much in the brilliance of his conceits, as in the often unexpectedly prosaic settings he gives them. At the heart of ‘The Garden of Forked Paths’ is the idea of a novel that splits into multiple variants at every juncture, to give an infinity of possible stories (hello, quantum mechanics! hello, the internet!), but Borges chooses to bury it in a World War One spy story that John Buchan might have tossed out. I recently fulminated on Twitter about Aaron Sorkin’s wrongheaded comment that “the most powerful delivery system ever invented for an idea is a story”, but look here: the idea and the delivery system in Borges’ story are entirely mismatched, thrown together seemingly at random. Or are they? However many times I read it, I can’t find any link between the cover story and what the author smuggles in under it, any reasonable explanation for why he chose to write this story that way. And so I go on reading…

(In Fictions and Labyrinths, but not, surprisingly, in the self-selected A Personal Anthology itself. Available online here)

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