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Manguel, Alberto.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1984. 967pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-88619-031-2. (International Fiction List #20)

Reviewed by Loys Maingon

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

Black Water brings together a delightful collection of seventy-two short stories under the aegis of “fantastic literature." Alberto Manguel, a professor at Vanier College, York University, is the editor of this collection. He is the co-author of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1980) and has previously published another anthology of fantastic literature in Spanish, Antologias de Literatura Fantastica Argentina (1973).

Manguel takes care to differentiate fantastic literature from literature of fantasy, such as Tolkein or the Narnia cycle, in a concise three-page introduction. His definition restricts the genre to that which deals with the "seeping of the impossible into the possible," and then lists six main themes of fantastic literature: time warps, hauntings, dreams, unreal creatures, metamorphoses, mimesis, and satanic intercourse. This all too brief introduction, which limits itself to an external, and therefore, superficial, description of the genre, will not give the reader a clear insight into its complexities.

The introduction defeats the purpose of literary appreciation and is not redeemed by the impressionist introductory notes to each tale. It is astounding that Manguel, who is a specialist in fantastic literature, neither presents his subject in the context of literary theory, nor makes any reference to the problem of madness and literature, which is the essence of the genre, as studied by the late Michel Foucault, as early as 1961.

The rich selection of modern writers made by Manguel is dominated by master stylists of western civilization. Very few of the anglophone authors should be new to the reader. Many will be re-called from late teen-age anthologies, such as, Ray Bradbury, Beerbohm, Greene, Somerset Maugham, Poe, James, Hawthorne, etc. The same applies to the scant choice of French authors, Cocteau, Yourcenar, Bloy, Pieyre de Mandiargues, and M. Aymé. The choice of Hispanic authors is not anthological. Of nine, seven are related to the Rio Plata literary scene, as is the editor. This literary myopia leaves out some of the most important names of contemporary Hispanic literature, such as Juan Rulfo, Juan Benet, G. Miro, M.A. Asturies, A. Carpentier, M. Verges Liosa, and G. Garcia Marquez, to name but a few. Blindness to the merits of writers outside the Rio Plata scene, reflects social and ethical prejudice, which might explain Manguel's omission of serious Argentine writers such as Ernesto Sabato who stands at the opposite pole to the Borges circle reflected in Manguel's selection. This selection reflects Gorges's favourites, the politically apathetic whose literary lucubrations represent a lot of fantastic navel gazing, perhaps consistent with Manguel's previous efforts to persuade us that Kipling was not a reactionary.

The transparency of Borges' magisterium in Manguel's choice is heightened by the selection of Don Juan Manuel's "The Wizard Postponed." This fourteenth-century tale, which is a well-known favourite of Borges, is the only non-modern representative of fantastic literature in Black Water. This anomaly underlines the limited scope of the collection. This "anthology of fantastic literature" falls short of its claim. It is a good simple collection of modern short-stories representative of a very conspicuous fragment literature, much of which is easily accessible elsewhere.

Black Water makes excellent light reading. It is only marred by the editor's deliberately chaotic presentation of the texts, which is further accentuated by the confusion of the table of contents between pages 219 and 287.

Loys Maingon, Dept. of Hispanic Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
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